Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
Spring paddling safety

Do you feel like taking ice? We certainly are.

But spring weather can be fickle. Arriving at the lake too early, not respecting weather conditions, or paddling beyond your skill level is not only risky: it’s downright dangerous.

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

1. Don’t skimp on planning

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

caravan with map

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

2. Pack like it’s winter

Yes, we know it may 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 have packed well, you must have everything you need to survive on your own for an extended period of time (in the worst case).

3. Waterproof your essentials

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

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Your emergency equipment is useless at the bottom of the lake. Keep it with you and/or tied to your canoe (in a floating bag).

4. Get waterproof

Don’t skimp on weather-appropriate clothing. That means winter clothing, including layers, a waterproof coat and warm gloves. Good weather in the driveway doesn’t always mean good time on the water.


And trust us: keep those waterproof matches with you.

5. Row smartly

Know your skill level and stay out of rough waters. Paddling during daylight hours.

Stick to the coast; Don’t cut through the middle of the lake. The water will be calmer and if you turn around, you will be much closer to the shore.

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

Backcountry trips to Algonquin Park

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

6. Know what to do if something goes wrong

Despite your best efforts, the worst happens. Your tips for the canoe. Someone is hurt. You are trapped by bad weather.

Not sure what to do in those situations? That’s a good sign that you may not be ready for this journey.

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

7. Don’t be ashamed to come home

We mean it. Sure, it can be frustrating to back out, but it’s usually the smartest option. It’s just not worth the risk.

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Some signs that it’s time to call it quits:

  • There is ice on the lake (even along the coast)
  • There are white crests in the water.
  • You feel insecure about your ability (and/or the ability of your campmates)

Bonus: Choose the right trip

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

Kawartha Highlands Signature Park

Located further south than many popular backcountry parks (just 2.5 hours from Toronto), Kawartha Highlands is close enough to quick weekend trip. Also has Cellular coverage.

AND Unlike a deeper backcountry adventure, paddlers can return to their vehicles within a few hours. if the spring weather turns unpleasant.

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