Kayak Nautical Etiquette, Natural Ethics
The tranquility that almost always ensues on the water – whether in a long, lazy paddle or after an adrenalized sprint from here to there – lies at the heart of our sport. Its popularity arises in large part from this peaceful, easy feeling, but as more and more people discover this joy in pedaling across a beautiful stretch of river, we must be more and more careful to practice the rules of etiquette and operation that prevent conflict among various boaters. The growing number of recreational users of our nation’s waterways mandate adherence to the rules of movement hereabouts.
Kayak with Purpose
Above all, be vigilant. Keep a wide, purposeful look out for other boats on the water with the humble understanding that ours is going to be, wherever or whenever, the smallest craft out there.
The thoughts below apply to larger bodies of water where commercial and military vessels pass in the night.
Wear bright clothing. Stripe your paddle blades with reflective tape. Wear a whistle. At night and during low-light conditions, a white light must be shown toward oncoming traffic.
Learn the channels and the meaning of the buoys which mark them. Facing downstream or leaving a harbor, green lights indicate starboard (right) and red lights indicate port (left). When returning to a harbor or pedaling upstream, the lights reverse – the red light belongs on your starboard side. The old sailor’s mnemonic aid “Red Right Returning” encapsulates the procedures. Since these lights and buoys have been placed for the safe movement of larger boats and ships, we kayakers need only pedal or paddle happily between the appropriate light or buoy and the shore, safely away from those lumbering giants.
Be aware of any restricted areas on the body of water you’re yakking. Bridge abutments. Dams. Land-based facilities such as power plants and drinking water facilities. The threat of terror, Islamic and otherwise, has changed the world, and not even the peace of the waterborne is totally secure. Always cooperate with law-enforcement officers, and respect the boundaries imposed by the military services. You may not, for instance, approach within one hundred yards of a vessel of the U.S. Navy.
Always cross powerboats of any size astern. If you’re traveling in a group of yaks, operate as a group. Do not straggle.
This thought more about safety than about etiquette: if motorized craft are operating nearby, take the wake from their propulsion head-on; you will be far less likely to capsize if you don’t absorb the wave motion broadside.
Stay current with your navigational charts. The lanes of travel in busy waterways change now and then.
Give fishermen a wide, considerate berth.
Kayak Etiquette on the Shore
Follow the same rules that apply to hiking. Your arrival by boat does not in any way relieve you of responsibility for maintaining natural habitat.
Never litter, and always pack out trash.
Conduct all toilet activity at least two hundred feet from any body of water. Pack out all human waste in environmentally sensitive areas or where heavy use presents a problem.
Minimize your impact, leave no trace during launch, portage, scouting, or taking out.
Do not disturb wildlife.
No campfires, except in established fire rings or in case of emergency.
Respect private property. Use only public lands and access points.
It’s all so simple really. So easy and natural and good. Enjoy.
And pedal on.