Essentials Before Your Paddle

Paddling, either canoe, stand up, or kayaking, is one of those summer activities that is both relaxing and energizing. In fact, 22 million Americans enjoy paddling and we can absolutely see why!

I’m definitely one of the 22 million and every year I come up with another reason why paddling is my favorite activity. It keeps me grounded, it helps relieve my stress, it can challenge me when I want it to, and it’s so fun to bring my kiddo along. 

However, paddling can be quite dangerous for the ill-prepared. Here’s what to do before hitting the water:

Check the Weather

We’re not just talking about if it’s going to rain or not. You may not be someone that cares about a little rain while you paddle, however, you should definitely look at the wind. Often when there’s a front coming in, that also means quite a bit of wind. If you are new to paddling, we don’t recommend paddling anything above 10 mph. This is about the limit when you start to fight the wind a bit and would do much better with some intermediate to advanced paddle technique. Granted, it’s a little easier to fight the wind in a kayak as the paddle has double blades, than a single blade paddling style like stand up paddling or canoe.

Also, check the heat index. If it’s really high, you need to pack more water with you than you would expect. We’ve seen quite a bit of folks leave their water on shore but paddle for hours at a time. You should always have at least one, full 32 oz bottle on your vessel. However, if it’s 80+ degrees outside and/or you’re paddling more than two hours, definitely pack more water. Go for another bottle full or even pack a water bladder to refill your bottle(s).

Do Your Research

We obviously love a little adventure, but we don’t like going all the way to a location and it does not work out at all. Take a look at the paddle accesses and launches, read reviews, and ask for advice. Most of this you can find through Google maps. If not, check Pinterest or a local/statewide group. On Facebook, there’s a Paddling NC group that is very helpful and responsive when folks want to explore a new area.

Pack Appropriately

Once you know where you’re going and what the weather is like, you can pack accordingly. The essentials include plenty of water and food. However, there are a few more things to bring with you that can keep you comfortable and safe out on the water. 

  • Water (at least a 32 oz bottle full for a 1-2 hour paddle)
  • Snacks
  • Whistle 
  • Personal Flotation Device
  • Dry bag to stash whatever you may need on the water like a med kit, as well as your keys and ID
    • I also bring my phone with me in my dry bag in case of emergencies (also for photos…)
  • A headlamp or small light for emergencies or paddles that will lead into the evening
  • Sunscreen
  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses 
  • Bug Spray
  • Water Shoes to protect your feet if you fall into the water or if you’re wading at all. Some places might have glass or fishing hooks where you might not see them. If you’re paddling around the coast, you might also come across oyster beds or other sharp objects.  
  • Wear clothing that can keep you cool in the heat or warm in the cold. We always suggest wearing dry wicking materials and staying away from cotton as cotton absorbs moisture. A bathing suit is perfect, to protect your skin a bit more, you can always wear UV protected materials often found in paddling and fishing apparel.

Helpful Tips:

  • Bring a cooler for a cold water or Gatorade post paddle, chilled fruit like watermelon or grapes are also nice as they hydrate you and has sugar
  • Bring a duffel with dry clothes and a towel
  • Bring dry shoes

Tell Someone Your Plan

This is a huge safety precaution for you and your family while out on the water. It also aids in peace of mind for your loved ones. Paddlers call this a “float plan” and can be as thorough or as simple as you would like it. You can even submit these to the coast guard or ranger stations and is highly recommended for long paddles along coastal waterways.

However, If I’m doing a short, couple hours worth of paddling, I typically send a text to someone close to me (my husband/Mom) and tell them where I’m going and what time they should hear back from me. If they don’t hear back, they should give me a call. If I don’t reply within 30 minutes of their call, they should contact emergency services and let them know where I was paddling. If I’m paddling at a State or National Park, they could contact the Park office first to send a ranger to look for me.

If it’s a full day paddle covering a lot of miles, my float plan would include more of what I’m planning. This includes my launch point, an outline of where I’m planning to paddle, my potential route, and how often I’m hoping to contact them or send them my location. 

If I’m partaking in an overnight paddle trip, I would also include potential take out points for emergencies and closest medical services. As you can see, the longer my trip, the more thorough my plan should be to assist in any potential emergency search and rescue.


It’s always best to be a bit prepared before hitting the water. Ensure you know what the weather will be like, know what to expect when you get to your access, bring necessary items, and tell someone where you’re going. All of this is to keep you just a bit more safe while out on the water. Then you can enjoy your paddle even more! 

See y’all out there!

-Sam Briley

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