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How To Paddle Safely in British Columbia

From sea kayaking Howe Sound to rafting the rapids of Golden’s Kicking Horse River, the province of British Columbia offers something for every kind of paddler. But it’s important to know how to be safe before you go. In this article we list the main factors to consider in order to paddle safely in British Columbia, whether you’re planning a multi-day adventure or an afternoon on the lake.

Always pack the following before you go paddling:

  • Canadian-certified lifejacket. (A leash on your stand up paddleboard is not an alternative to a lifejacket and you could be fined for not wearing one.)
  • Buoyant heaving line that’s a minimum of 15 metres (50 feet) long
  • Bailer or manual bilge pump (sit-on-top kayaks and SUPs are exempt)
  • Whistle or another sound signally device

And always remember the following safety considerations:

  • Paddle with a friend
  • Tread lightly on the loose rocks, wear proper footwear
  • Know your gear
  • Know your skills
  • Stay away from logs and other debris
  • Wear a helmet if you’re paddling whitewater
  • Bring water and a dry bag with a first aid kit, snack and a warm layer

Know Your Water Levels

Tidal fluctuations can be as high as seven metres in the North Coast of the province and average around two metres in southern coastal areas so it’s important to refer to charts or apps in order to know where the water is going to be at before embarking on an ocean journey. This is because some narrows and channels get choked out during low tides and become impassable and others become fast-flowing and dangerous during high tides. FishingBC has an app that includes tidal information for the province but there are many other apps that can be referred to as well.

Even if you’re not on the ocean, it’s still important to know about water levels before you go paddling in BC. Seasonal fluctuations are commonplace and Spring will typically involve the highest water levels on rivers because of snow melt. But in such areas as the West Kootenay, other factors are to be considered because river and lake heights fluctuate due to the hydro-electric dam activity.

By referring to different sources such as paddling experts (like the ones found on this site), an app like RiverApp or Paddling Maps, and BC Hydro’s Meteorological Data site you’ll have a better understanding of where water levels are at.

Know Your Animals

From grizzly bears and sea lions to humpback whales and white-tailed deer, British Columbia is home to a huge assortment of wildlife but it goes without saying you should never approach, feed, or provoke them. Even a benign-looking jellyfish could leave you with a nasty sting that hurts for days. So it’s best to keep your hands to yourself and give wild animals a wide berth when paddling in BC.

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