Spring paddling safety

Spring paddling safety

Itching for ice out? We certainly are.

But spring weather can be fickle. Hitting the lake too early, failing to respect weather conditions or paddling beyond your skill level isn’t just risky — it’s downright dangerous.

We chatted with Paul Smith, Superintendent of Kawartha Highlands Signature Site, to get some top do’s and don’ts for spring paddling safety:

1. Don’t skimp on the planning

Check the forecast, study your route, and don’t hesitate to call the park if you’ve got questions.

camper with map

And make sure you share your itinerary with someone you trust. If anything goes wrong, you want emergency crews to be contacted (and able to locate you) as quickly as possible.

2. Pack like it’s winter

Yes, we know it might feel like spring now, but trust us: if you get soaked in a spring storm, it’ll feel like winter. Pack everything you need to keep your group dry and warm, no matter the weather.

If you’ve packed right, you should have everything you need to survive on your own for an extended period of time (in the event of a worst-case scenario).

3. Waterproof your essentials

Keep your survival gear dry. Carry your satellite phone / spot unit / cell phone in waterproof case. You’ll also want a waterproof container with matches and emergency supplies (including a map, compass and first aid kit). Don’t underestimate the importance of dry blankets (at least one or two per person) in the event of a flip.

Your emergency gear’s no good to you at the bottom of the lake. Keep it on your person and/or lashed to your (float-bagged) canoe.

4. Waterproof yourself

Don’t skimp on weather-appropriate clothing. That means winter gear, including layers, a waterproof shell and warm gloves. Nice weather on your driveway doesn’t always mean nice weather on the water.


And trust us: keep those waterproofed matches on your person.

5. Paddle smart

Know your skill level and stay out of rough water. Paddle during daylight hours.

Stick to the shoreline; don’t cut through the middle of the lake. The water will be calmer and if you flip, you’re that much closer to shore.

Don’t overload your canoe. It might mean two trips, but it can be the difference between staying dry and arriving safely, and getting drenched with your gear underwater.

Backcountry tripping Algonquin Park

And, of course: always, always wear your lifejacket or flotation suit.

6. Know what to do if something goes wrong

Despite your best efforts, the worst happens. Your canoe tips. Someone is injured. You’re stranded by rough weather.

Not sure what to do in those situations? That’s a good signal that you might not be ready for this trip.

If you have more learning to do, check out the Ontario Recreational Canoeing and Kayaking Association, Paddle Canada or our events page to find classes.

7. Don’t be embarrassed to go home

We mean it. Sure, it can be frustrating to turn back, but this is often the smartest option. It’s just not worth the risk.

Some signs it’s time to pack it in:

  • There’s ice on the lake (even along the shoreline)
  • There are whitecaps on the water
  • You feel unsure of your ability (and/or the ability of your fellow campers)

Bonus: Choose the right trip

Kawartha Highlands is a great option for that first spring paddle, especially Bottle Lake, Sucker Lake and Crab Lake.

Kawartha Highlands Signature Site Park

Located further south than many popular backcountry parks (only 2.5 hours from Toronto), Kawartha Highlands is close enough for a quick weekend trip. It’s also got cell coverage.

And unlike a deeper backcountry adventure, paddlers are able to make it back to their vehicles within a few hours if the spring weather turns nasty.

Wherever your first spring adventure takes place, stay safe on the water. Happy paddling!