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10 Safety Tips for Paddle Sports

August 5, 2023

Before you head out on the water, check local guidelines and follow public health rules.

Central Washington’s long winters yield lush spring and early summer landscapes. Warm temperatures and long sunny days draw people, locals, and visitors alike, to the rivers and lakes woven throughout Kittitas County. Paddle sports are among the most common ways to enjoy Central Washington’s outdoors and beat the heat.

Enjoy floating through some of Central Washington’s most spectacular scenery, as the Yakima River flows past basalt cliffs and winds through the canyon.  While the canyon is considered the safest stretch of the river by experts, it also can be a dangerous place. The river is running high and swift this time of year as snowmelt from the Cascades makes its way down the river, along with water from reservoirs upstream.

Washington’s diverse waterways require different skills, preparation and safety equipment for paddlers. We recommend you take courses to learn the laws that apply, emergency procedures, navigation rules and paddling techniques — all of which will enhance your experience. Check out Rill Adventures for education, guides, and gear!


Not all equipment and gear are created equal and not all water enthusiasts should venture out on any given waterway. Make sure your gear and skill level are suitable for the paddling conditions you’re choosing. Good swimming skills are a necessity and practice on non-motorized water or sheltered lakes are recommended before paddling on open waterways.


It is important to know that kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards (SUP) are subject to boating laws and regulations. We urge you to recreate responsibly to prevent accidents, minimize impacts, and avoid conflicts with other boaters, floaters, and other paddlers. Prepare before you head out on your paddling adventure by following the guidelines listed below for safe, fun experience in our beautiful outdoors:


Know the laws and keep yourself and others safe. At a minimum, take a course to increase your knowledge of paddlesport safety, emergency procedures and navigational rules. You can find classes through local clubs and outfitters, city and county parks and recreation departments and online.


State law requires all vessels, including canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, to have at least one properly fitted life jacket for each person on board. All children, 12 years of age or younger, are always required to wear life jackets. Modern, comfortable life jackets are tailored specifically for paddlesports. Inflatable life jackets are only allowed for persons 16 years of age or older. Regardless of age or skill level, it is the law to have a life jacket with you.


For stand-up paddleboards, a leash is a necessity. Without a leash, even in a light breeze or small waves or current, a paddleboard can drift out of reach in a matter of seconds. Staying tethered to a paddleboard provides extra flotation and a chance to stay alive in an accident. A variety of leashes are available (coiled, hybrid, straight, quick release) and which one to use depends on the waterway. You need to research which leash is right for you or visit one of our local shops for expert advice!


Carry the essentials for safety, emergency communications and comfort. State law requires paddlers to carry a sound-producing device, such as a whistle – even on a stand-up paddleboard. Professional paddlers recommend carrying a cell phone (in a waterproof bag). Having a noise- producing device can save your life should you need to call, direct emergency attention for help or become detached from your device.

In addition to items required by law, you should wear sun protection and bring a headlamp with extra batteries, first aid kit, dry bag and hydrating fluids.

We also recommend carrying a bilge pump and an extra paddle. Other essentials depend on the type of waterway and length of trip and should be researched in advance.

Where to buy the gear!


Know the laws and keep yourself and others safe. At a minimum, take a course to increase your knowledge of paddlesport safety, emergency procedures and navigational rules. You can find classes through local clubs and outfitters, city and county parks and recreation departments and online.


Before you head out, it’s important to discuss your adventure with another person. Let them know your intended route, including names of everyone going, what time you’re going and returning, what kind of vessel you’ll be taking and description, and what to do if you don’t return when expected. Make this a routine every time you go out on the water.


Being alert and in tune with your situational awareness are necessary on the water. That means always staying alert. Operating any vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana, is not only unsafe — it’s illegal. Washington state’s Boating Under the Influence (BUI) law applies to all boats including kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards, rowboats and inflatable fishing rafts.


Paddle craft are typically safe, but paddle sport enthusiasts still run the risk of going overboard and becoming an accidental swimmer. Rapids put you in danger of cold water, loss of gear and potentially life-threatening situations. Paddling alone is never a great idea. If you choose to go out alone, you need to stay close to shore so you can comfortably swim. Paddle experts often recommend learning self-rescue techniques. We recommend starting with an instructor and hands-on training. Some self-rescues techniques are not easy and all will require practice. Check out Check out Rill Adventures for educational courses.


Paddle rafts sit low on the water, making them difficult for other boaters to see. Wear bright contrasting colors, put highly reflective tape on paddles, and don’t be afraid to make a colorful statement with your gear! To be seen is to be safe!


If you own paddle craft, keep your contact information in your vessel, on a sticker or in some other way. When empty paddlecraft are found adrift, it’s assumed someone is in danger and a search is launched. Calling the owner of a kayak, stand-up paddleboard or canoe found adrift can help prevent unnecessary searches and free up resources. This is also helpful when you have been separated from your vessel or paddle craft and need to have it returned.


After familiarizing yourself with our water safety guidelines, you’re ready to take the plunge… Almost. Remember these quick tips as you navigate your Central Washington water adventure!

  1. Paddle with a group of at least three people and stay close enough for visual or verbal contact.
  2. Expect the unexpected – you may capsize or fall in the water. Keep your feet off the bottom and pointed downstream to avoid getting snagged, struck, or stuck.
  3. Remember your Self Rescue techniques to be able to rescue yourself and others in the event of a capsize. Consider carrying a throw bag, rescue kit and a towing system.
  4. Stay near the shore when there’s a lot of boat traffic. Approaching waves head on will help keep water out of your vessel to avoid capsizing.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings. Scan ahead and look for hazards like overhanging branches/trees, rocks, low bridges or rapids.
  6. When in doubt, get out and scout! Don’t take a chance of paddling rapids or currents you are not used to. Make sure to check for rocks that are dangerously close to the surface.
  7. Self-care is important so you stay alert. Know your limits, stay hydrated, etc.

The key to an enjoyable water adventure is a safe water adventure. Central Washington has so many beautiful, scenic views available no matter which way you choose to take them in. One of our undeniable favorites is from the water. Follow our safety guidelines and check out more ways to enjoy Central Washington water adventures!

As always, please take our Plan to Play Pact as you recreate responsibly.

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