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Paddling Safety

For safe paddling in the Thousand Islands, it is necessary to be mindful of several considerations:

Paddle with friends. Only very experienced paddlers (with a failsafe roll, strong knowledge of several self-rescue techniques, and trustworthy navigation skills) should paddle alone in the Thousand Islands. Group paddling is strongly recommended, to create a safer paddling scenario where partners can assist in navigation, capsize events or first aid situations.

Watch for other vessels. The St. Lawrence River is a busy place full of recreational motor craft, sailboats, and commercial touring boats, not to mention ocean going vessels. The recreational channel is marked by red and green buoys on the water, and is clearly indicated on the route maps that highlight the Thousand Islands Water Trail. Boat traffic is especially busy near the marinas and harbours of Kingston, Gananoque, Ivy Lea, Rockport and Brockville. The St. Lawrence International Seaway Channel is a definite consideration in trip planning. Plan to steer clear of it! At Ironsides Island, westbound the shipping channel splits into two channels diverting most of the traffic south in the American Shipping Channel of the river. Eastbound from Ironsides, all traffic uses a route that lies mainly in Canadian waters and is especially hazardous in the narrow waters off Brockville.

Watch for rocks. The hundreds of submerged shoals in the river shouldn't provide too much difficulty for paddlers. In fact these areas are often clear of all other type of vessel and can usually be navigated by paddle. However, be weary of shoals when high winds gather large waves that can break in an erratic manner on shoals.

Beware strong currents. In places where the river channel narrows, the river current can be swift. Areas of strong currents are identified clearly on route maps. Paddlers should avoid paddling directly through these areas, and should rather stay near shore to minimize the risk of a capsize.

Respect stormy weather. Storms brew very quickly over the St. Lawrence. If it looks like weather approaching, it will very likely arrive before you expect it. Have a map case on deck, and be aware of your location on the water at all times so that you can quickly determine the best location to land and the fastest route to it. Emergency landings ashore or on the islands should be made on public lands, but in cases of grave danger do what is necessary to be safe. Landowners of the region will often be quick to come to your assistance.

Stay warm. Cold and wet is a dangerous combination in any wilderness situation. Be sure to be cold weather ready when paddling the river during all seasons. Water temperatures are cold in all months except June-August, and air temperatures can be cool on summer evenings.

Stay in touch. When paddling the Thousand Islands, be sure to carry appropriate communication equipment. A VHF radio is the standard communication device for boaters, but may prove too bulky for paddlers. A cell phone is far more convenient, and is effective for the region has good cellular phone coverage.

Be seen. Be visible when you are on the water so that fellow boaters can see you. Use common sense to improve the chances of being quickly seen on the water--wear colourful clothing, use navigation lights in conditions of poor visibility, or paddle as a group. For signalling an emergency, carry a waterproof high-beam flashlight, or better yet at least 3 flares (smoke or fire).

Be heard. Three short whistle blasts will signal to others in the immediate vicinity your distress. VHF radio channel 16 is used for EMERGENCY and CALLING purposes only. In case of grave and imminent danger, use channel 16 and repeat MAYDAY three times. When you require assistance but face no immediate danger, use channel 16 and repeat PAN PAN three times. With a cellular phone, dial *16 for the Canadian Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centre. Give a vessel description, position, nature of problem, and type of assistance required. Contact Marine Search and Rescue (1-800-267-5111) in an emergency situation when a fellow paddler or other boater is missing and presumed overboard.

Be safe. The Safe Boating Guide is published by the Canadian Coast Guard. It encourages boaters to manage their own safety by avoiding unnecessary risks and planning each trip with safety in mind. The Guide stresses 5 easy rules, all relevant for paddlers: Buckle Up (your PFD); Drive (Paddle) Sober; Look First; Wear the Gear; Get Trained. Recreational users should consult this publication. It is available free of charge at 1-800-267-6687, http://www.ccg-gcc.gc.ca

Have the necessary maps. Paddlers should obtain the appropriate navigation charts, topographic maps or NOAA charts for the region. They can be purchased on-line, ordered by telephone, or directly from suppliers (outfitters and marinas) in the Thousand Islands. These should be thoroughly consulted during trip planning, and close at hand while on trip. Notice to Mariners are issued by the Canadian Coast Guard monthly to update and provide important information regarding marine charts and publications. These notices can be obtained at http://www.notmar.gc.ca.

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