Paddling News: The price of popularity

By Tom Lindblade
Illinois Paddling Council President

Kayaking has grown to number nearly 8 million regular active participants in the U.S. alone, according to the National Sporting Goods Association ( That number is up from 3.5 million only 10 years ago. And the numbers are almost evenly split between males (55 percent) and females (45 percent), with women being the fastest-growing segment.

Unfortunately for us, the entry to our sport is not perceived to be through instruction, as it is in skiing, golf, tennis, fishing and hunting. In most sports, it is self-evident that you must have instruction to be safe. Not so with paddling.

For as little as $300, you can purchase a kayak, paddle and personal floatation device (PFD). Even a complete novice can get into a kayak and in a very short time reach a level of competence that leaves them with a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction. So, feeling accomplished and satisfied, many beginners do not see the need for additional skills.

As a result, we have recently read of a woman rescued from Lake Michigan after attempting the 70-mile crossing on a sit-on-top kayak. Numerous instances have been reported of kayakers encountered out on Lake Michigan without even the most basic safety equipment, such as spray skirts and PFDs.

We are likely to see a lot more of this. The increasing number of sales of boats virtually guarantees it. More people on the water means more incidents, injuries and deaths — and more public scrutiny.

In 2006, three people died at Yorkville in a kayak-related accident. The response, without any input from paddlers, was the poorly conceived dam safety legislation, which came very close to becoming law.

Two years later, after a rafting death, the Vermilion River was closed for almost three years. We continue to have one or two deaths in Lake Michigan every year, and approximately 140 paddling deaths nationally each year.

Other high-profile deaths caused by inexperience are inevitable. When they do come, our recent experience tells us we are not likely to be pleased with what others may try to decide is best for us. It may be time for us to consider being proactive.

I was recently asked to help in writing the basic instructional standards for paddlers (i.e.: what should every paddler know and be able to do with their craft) as part of a Coast Guard grant. To not have something imposed, these standards could be put to work. Maybe we should take the lead and instead of trying voluntary strategies that have not worked, maybe we should take advantage of technology and require completion of a short online course based on the standards and oriented toward the type of boat purchased. It could be followed by having to pass a short exam. Something along these lines might actually communicate the basic safety information we have wanted beginners to know.

The Coast Guard has come out with similar courses for boaters.

Go to for the Coast Guard Course. Please share your opinion on the club lists or blogs, or e-mail me at

Overnite camping at Watson’s Wilderness Island on the Fox River in Oswego

A special opportunity to camp out and participate in a clean-up/workday Sunday, July 22, is available on a first-come, first-serve basis for up to 36 on-water volunteers. This workday and campout is co-sponsored by Illinois Water TrailKeepers, a project of Illinois Paddling Council, Openlands and Geneva Kayak.

Russ Watson has invited clean-up volunteers to camp on his 5-acre wilderness island, on the Fox River just across from Saw Wee Kee Park in Oswego, Ill., 2 miles upstream of the Yorkville Whitewater Park, on the night of Saturday, July 21. Sunday morning, campers will be treated to a pancake breakfast provided by Geneva Kayak. After breakfast, campers will participate in a clean-up/work project on the island. What a great getaway, close to home!

To participate, contact me at

Upcoming river clean-ups

Pecatonica River Cleanup. Sunday, July 29. Call (815) 599-5690 for more details.

Boone County Conservation District (BCCD), Kishwaukee River Cleanup, 9 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 25. Come help us clean up the Kishwaukee River. Participants must provide their own canoe and equipment. Meet at Hickory Bill’s Island in Belvidere Park at 9 a.m. Call the BCCD office at (815) 547-7935 to register, so we know that you are planning to attend.

The Rock River Sweep, Sept. 9. Once again, The Illinois Paddling Council will clean the Rock from below Fordham Dam in Rockford to the mouth of the Kishwaukee. This is a challenging route to clean, so we always find plenty to pick up. Meet at Blackhawk Park in Rockford at 10 a.m. Call or e-mail me if you are coming: (630) 207-9500 or

The next Illinois Paddling Council meeting will be at 7:30 p.m., July 31, at the Schaumburg Library.

From the July 18-24, 2012, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!