At Downunder we are dedicated to your comfort, safety, and quality of experience – we want you to have the best time possible!
The following kayaking and paddle boarding safety guidelines might be helpful to you.
- Always wear a Coast Guard–approved lifejacket – Lifejackets are mandatory at Downunder – we’re on a river with boats and other paddlers, and the water leads out to Long Island Sound where you’re very exposed. Make sure it fits! A loose jacket will slip over your head – particularly important to keep in mind when outfitting children. Its the law – from October to May you must wear it, from June through September it is required to be on your ‘vessel’ (but at Downunder, your body).
- Everything floats – you, the boat, and the paddle – just keep it altogether.
- Wind, waves, the wake of a boat, or simply leaning too far could send you into the drink– and the water might be cold. Wearing a lifejacket will keep you warm, and keep you afloat while you figure out how to get back on your board or boat. It will also keep your head above water. Lifejackets that you inflate yourself are nifty, but if you’re unable to do so for some reason – you’ll be glad you’re wearing a traditional one.
- Float plan– Make sure someone knows you’re going and when you expect to be back. We’ve got you covered at Downunder!
- Instruction– Downunder staff will offer you a mini skills and safety lesson before you go out, it’s enough to get you going. We do recommend taking a class to develop skill and technique, capsizes, rescues, and general safety information.
- Phone– We’re sure you don’t want calls while you’re out on the water, but it is a good idea to have your phone with you should you need assistance. Of course you need a dry bag, and we sell a variety just for phones and Downunder has dry bags specifically for phones, and larger ones for all the other stuff you can’t do without! Program our phone number on it, so if you need us, give us a shout.
- Whistle – There’s one on your lifejacket – 3 blasts will have every boat in the area bearing down on you.
- First aid– It’s unlikely you will need any, but if you do, it’s most often a cut from a shell or a sunburn. Wear shoes, take lotion, and drink….
- Hydration – Every 10 mins you should be taking a drink – once you’re thirsty you are already dehydrated. Concerned you’ll need a toilet? Go for a swim, the fish won’t tell! Skip the coffee (it makes you go), and drink something with electrocytes (helps you hold on). Dehydration results in headaches, nausea, and disorientation.
- Hypothermia– If you end up in the drink and its cold, you will be even colder in a few minutes and if it’s not warm out, you won’t be heating up. Don’t go out unless you’re prepared for going in – wetsuit/neoprene layers – from a shorty to just a jacket, to a full on 7mm suit (January). Don’t be fooled by the summer – wind and rain can lead to hypothermia.
- Cold-water paddling– Downunder offers out-of-season paddling with the use of wetsuits, and we take cold water paddling very seriously. If you’re gonna go out you have to be prepared for the worst.
- Hyperthermia – This is more likely in the summer – heat stroke, only worse. Wear a hat, you can even dunk it in the water and put it back on to comfortably cool your head down. Go for a swim. Signs of heat stress through hyperthermia: faint, dizzy, nausea, disorientation, headache. Early stages sweating, later stages cool and clammy.
- Protect yourself with:
- suntan lotion
- lip balm with SPF
- sunglasses that attach around your neck
- water- and sweat-wicking clothing (not cotton, which gets cold and clammy when wet)
- boardies and a rashguard are ideal, but a swimsuit is fine !
- Tow belt– If you’re taking kids out or anyone that you think might need some help, take a tow rope with you. Downunder has some for you to borrow or to buy.
- Capsizing – You usually know you’re going over, try to hold onto your paddle, and then quickly grab hold of your boat/board. Make sure you’re safe to get back on. On an SUP, fall back off the board instead of forward onto the board, and if you’re in waves fall away from the waves so the board doesn’t come after you. Try to have the grip of the paddle hit the water first.
Sit-on-top kayak or stand-up paddleboard capsize recovery
- Fall off!
- Right your kayak – leaning on the side or stern will usually achieve this.
- Get back on – if there’s a side handle (a “well” on a SUP), grab it and while kicking hard reach over for the other handle while propelling yourself up and over the boat/board.
- Not too far, though – once your belly is over the seat, rotate away from the seat and sit down. On a SUP you can come straight up onto your knees, and catch your breath before standing up and paddling on.
- Bring your legs in and recover your composure.
- Alcohol and stimulants– Don’t mix alcohol with water and boats. You need all your wits about you.
- Watch for hazards– Power boat motors are sharp, try not to go near them. Check which way and how fast the wind is blowing – because that’s where you’re gonna go! Watch out for rowers. On a SUP – you can reach across to the handwell, get a grip and pull yourself on.
- Be aware of the weather– It’s New England, the weather changes every few minutes! If you get caught in a rain shower – well, it’s just rain. If you get cold from the rain, paddle harder. If you hear thunder/see lightning – get low! ideally get off the water and away from anything tall. DO NOT continue to paddle if the thunder claps are close together. Your paddle is a lightning rod. If the wind just won’t let you come back – pull over and call us, we’ll do our best to come get you or send help.
- Tides – Most rivers have significant silt, and at low tide this is exposed. Know your tide when you go out, so you don’t end up stranded in the mud. And, especially if you pull up on an island, make sure you pull the kayak up past the high-tide line or it might not be there when you return.
- Paddling in wind– Wind is just air with attitude! It has gusts and then lulls – paddle hard in the lulls and just consistently in the gusts. Paddle in the lee of the land. Use your paddle as a rudder, as the wind blows your stern to the side – the rudder will help keep you on course. If you’re SUPing, get down onto your knees – the low profile will help you. Don’t stop paddling unless you can park somewhere and not be blown backwards. Beware of offshore winds – they make it hard to return to shore.
- Fog– Stay close to shore! Our boats and boards are for recreational paddling – you should always be close to shore or be able to see the shore. If you get stuck in fog and disoriented, listen for noise and blow your whistle. If you have a phone with you, call the store, or 911.
- Paddling with rowers– We share this beautiful river with rowers – rowers paddle backwards, they cannot see where they are going. Larger crews have a boat with them, who will alert the rowers to boat traffic to avoid. Some paddle on their own, glancing over their shoulder. Rowers are fast – if you see one, give way.
- Right of way– Manually propelled vessels (kayaks/SUPs/rowing shells) must give right of way to sailing and motor vessels. Keep out of the way of anything going fast or that can’t turn fast – motor boats and rowing shells.
- Where’d I leave from?– On the rivers it’s pretty easy – up or down. Once you get into the Sound you have to get your bearings for returning. In Rowayton, the Five Mile River has a large flag at the entrance, and on the eastern shore there’s a beach association with a lot of white Adirondack chairs. In Westport you can see the smoke stacks of the power plant and, as you get closer, I-95 and the bridges.