Cold Water Safety

Posted By: Canoe Kayak Canada

Spring is finally here and paddlers are starting to return to training on Canadian water. Competent coaches and sound safety practices have been key factors in maintaining a good safety record within CanoeKayak Canada. Your diligence in following the code of safety will help to prevent tragedies. Please take a few moments to review the sprint, whitewater and marathon safety policies and be sure to spread the word as CKC shares safety tips through Facebook and Twitter.

Sprint Code of Safety

Personal Flotation Devices (PFD)

  • PFD policies are regulated by each divisions. CKC recommends PFDs for everyone while the water is below 8 degrees Celsius and for anyone under the age of 15 all the time.
  • Paddlers over 18 who choose not to wear a PFD must sign a waiver and have an approved PFD accessible in their boat or in the accompanying safety boat


  • Stay close to your athletes in the safety boat
  • Don’t put inexperienced paddlers on the water
  • Keep you athletes near the shore in cold water
  • Carry a cell phone with you in the motorboat if possible


  • Don’t go out in inclement weather
  • Club Safety Officer and/or Head Coach must monitor environmental conditions including water temperature, air temperature, wind, precipitation

Cold Water Effects

Whitewater Code of Safety

While all whitewater canoeing and kayaking has inherent risks, many whitewater accidents are preventable. Here are some simple things you can do to stay safe.

  • Familiarize yourself with the CKC’s code of safety.
  • Wear your lifejacket regardless of boat type or difficulty of water. A third of all whitewater accidents could have been prevented if the victim was wearing a life vest; many fatal accidents occur in very easy rapids.
  • Know the river to prevent unpleasant surprises. Find out what lies downstream.
  • Avoid extremes of weather and water: Very high flows and cold temperatures pose special challenges to paddlers. If you don’t have the specialized gear and skills needed, wait until conditions improve.
  • Avoid dams: Small low-head dams are responsible for 10% of river fatalities. Most are much worse than they look! Know the location of dams before launching on a river, and avoid getting too close to the upstream or downstream sides of them.
  • Ensure you have proper and functioning safety equipment

Marathon Safety Policy

  • Before May 1 and after October 1 all paddlers in every class must wear a lifejacket or PFD.
  • A lifejacket or personal floatation device (PFD) must be carried for every competitor in a boat. If not accompanied by a safety craft, the canoe or kayak must carry a PDF or lifejacket of appropriate size for each person.
  • Paddlers age 13 and under (as of January 1, 2014) must always wear a lifejacket. In a North Canoe or Montreal Canoe the age is 14.
  • Carry a whistle and watertight flashlight. A buoyant heaving line and bailer are also recommended. These can be carried in an accompanying motor boat but North/Voyageur and outrigger OC6 canoes should carry their own equipment.
  • A sound signalling device and a watertight flashlight must be carried the canoe or kayak is operated after sunset or sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility.