Do your homework before heading out in a canoe

Chris Young

In times of high water, canoeists and boaters in general need to be extra careful. There is a general desire to get outside, no matter what, once the weather warms. And people with little experience in a canoe may not see problems ahead that could turn a canoe outing into a struggle.

Chris McCloud, spokesman with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, says boaters can use a variety of sources to check on local conditions before setting out.

“You can never go wrong checking in with the site office,” he says. “If you are renting canoes or equipment, the canoe rental company should be able to judge conditions as well.

“If you are going to be on a river or navigable waterway, check with the local emergency management agency or your local DNR Web site to see if there are any river closures.”

Along with having a good time comes attention to safe canoeing practices. Scott Hewitt of Lincoln’s New Salem Canoe Rental in Petersburg, Ill., shared these tips.

- At least one member of the party should be familiar with the area and know how to get around.

- Bring an accurate map, compass and possibly a GPS unit. Cell phones might not work in some areas. “Know how to use a compass and bring a backup,” Hewitt says. “GPS is great, but it should not be relied upon. Batteries can die and satellites can cut out. A backup compass is important.”

- Bring a flashlight and a backup.

- Tell someone when the group is going and when the group will return. Groups of 15 or more must check in with the site office. Hewitt says it never hurts to let site personnel know where you are going.

- Wear life jackets. Don’t just have them in the canoe.

- Bring extra clothes and basic camping gear on long trips. Make a special kit of gear that can be stowed in a dry bag. Include a first-aid kit along with insect repellent and a head net if the bugs get too bad.

- Learn how to right a canoe that has tipped over.

“You have to know how to rescue yourself should you capsize,” Hewitt says. “It is a skill that needs to be practiced. Learn how to get the water out of your boat and get the boat upright again.

“Hypothermia is a serious threat at any water temperature. It all depends on how long you spend in the water.”

- Be mindful of faster current if canoeists stray closer to the main river channels.

- Always take more food and water than you need. “You can always bring it back and eat it later,” Hewitt says. “Canoeing is a high-energy activity. It’s the one time you can gorge yourself.”

- Be respectful and aware of private property. “If you don’t know where you are, you can drift onto private land,” Hewitt says. “Stay on public ground unless you have permission.”

As with many outdoor activities, the investment in equipment can get expensive.

“Where do you stop?” Hewitt asks. “Do you get the $700 dry suit or wear wool that will keep you warm when you are wet?”

The State Journal-Register