What is the Leading Cause of Death for Paddlers in Small Crafts, such as Canoes, Kayaks, and Rafts?

Leading Cause of Death for Paddlers

Traveling, exploring, and cherishing nature on a small boat across the lake, river, or anywhere in the water is fun. Whether with your friends, having a lovely family trip, or enjoying the watercraft experience alone, you must consider the safety of being out in nature.

Small boats like canoes, kayaks, and rafts are only partially safe with professional assistance. There have been reported deaths of paddlers for the past couple of years worldwide. You may question what could go wrong with such a recreational activity and what is a leading cause of death for paddlers in a such small craft. There are plenty of reasons and most revolve around neglecting precautionary measures.

We have established an understanding that the watercraft adventure is not as safe as it sounds, and there are some leading death causes for paddlers in small canoes, kayaks, and rafts. Let’s explore more in the article what you can do to make this seem like a safe journey for yourself, your family, and your friends.

Common Causes of Paddlers Dying in Small Crafts

Most water enthusiasts or Homo Aquaphile go wild once they get flat-water recreation. More specifically, paddlers during canoeing or kayaking tend to lose themselves along with the feeling of playing with water waves. We understand the hype, but there are so many common causes of death and accidents that the majority of them are pretty shocking. Most of these deaths are due to the negligence of simple precautions in the name of being mere daredevils.

The bottom line is to have fun and enjoy every moment around water, but not at the expense of your precious life. To ensure your safety during the water recreational activities, we have listed some common causes of death in small vessels. Tag along so you can watch out for dangers and stay safe while having fun.


According to U.S. Coast Guard reports, for the past couple of years, there have been 15% fatalities due to drowning of Kayaks with motorboats.

Majorly, paddlers who use any small paddle crafts are more likely to drown than those involved in other watercraft sports.

Incidents of drowning have a higher risk of death, but a few cases resulted in injuries and significant fractures. Even if any paddler survives any drowning incidents, they may face severe injuries such as:

  • Tendinitis
  • Hand blisters
  • Abrasions
  • Cuts, if unattended, may lead to severe allergies
  • Bruises
  • Contusions to the head

According to the information related to the National Safety Council (NSC), paddlers are at high risk of brutal accidents; almost 1 in 4 recreational paddlers experience lifetime injuries. Drawing is quite an underlying reason for paddlers’ deaths and is often overlooked; however, one slight movement in your balance can affect the momentum of your boat and can lead to healing and rolling.

The best and most helpful way of saving yourself from drowning is wearing a life jacket and being aware of your surroundings.

Lack of Experience

The new bees and novice water enthusiasts should avoid canoeing, kayaking, and rafting as it may not be a safe boating experience for them and those involved.

Occasional paddlers may need to be more skilled to handle challenging situations, especially if more people are aboard. Most of the crash and drowning accidents happen due to irrational moves of intermediate and beginner paddlers.

Although we understand that getting excited about new paddling challenges is natural, real-life struggles can be above your skill level.

The excitement and being goaded into doing something new can cause you to get over your head and jump right into paddling. However, it’s best to tag along with a buddy who ensures a safe boating experience and teaches you a few things to get a better hold of your leadership in paddling.

Other than that, try to be more physically, intellectually, and mentally active and present in the moment. Sleep appropriately before the day you plan to get some water recreational experience.

Weather Conditions

When unexperienced paddlers gets in contact with bad weather, they tend to lose control of their boat and panic quickly. Sounds unrealistic? Well, let’s say an intermediate paddler is out in the water and gets struck by a vast wave followed by heavy rain; this can turn into an uncontrollable situation for the paddlers. Due to increased exposure to water and wind, smallcraft users have a higher risk of death.

The risks of hypothermia and significant dangers await most canoes and raft paddlers. A few of the weather hazardous conditions can be:

  • High winds
  • Heavy rain
  • Rough seas

The best practical way for any small kayaking, canoe, and raft paddler is to get familiar with the weather conditions of the area where they plan to paddle. An overview of the weather is helpful before embarking on your paddling adventure.

Equipment Failure

Equipment failure is another increasing cause of death for paddlers. The victims of these incidents are novice paddlers who may neglect the need for rechecking equipment before starting their paddling adventure.

Their limited experience and knowledge of handling equipment failure safely and effectively come.

Their craft’s defective and worn-out parts can become the primary culprit of interrupting their watercraft adventure. Even a tiny missing screw can abort your mission of paddling. It has become a massive problem for aquaphiles and a leading cause of deaths of paddlers in the past couple of years. Any equipment failure can go long regarding repair costs, total downtime, and health and safety implications. Following are the significant reasons why equipment failure occurs, which can compromise the safety of paddlers:

  • Improper operations
  • Failure to perform preventive maintenance
  • Failure to continuously monitor equipment

Consider this as a checklist for your next paddling experience, too. No doubt having paddlers in small crafts seems like a romantic experience; however, it can swiftly turn into a disaster, too. Any tiny mismanagement in equipment maintenance can become a leading cause of death for paddlers in small crafts, such as canoes, kayaks, and rafts. Make it possible that the equipment you use for watercraft is in pristine shape and well-functioning.

Boat Capsizing

Capsizing is on top of the list, which can become a leading of death for paddlers in small crafts, as in canoes, kayaks, and rafts. Watercraft is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyed activities, especially for water enthusiasts, but some hazardous situations are attached to this fun activity.

Regarding the safety of kayakers, canoeists, and rafts, capsizing is a huge warning. A minor imbalance of your craft can lead to capsizing and make your boat unstable and tilt easily.

It can also lead the occupants to get trapped inside the tilted boat and lead to death. Due to less oxygen supply, the occupants can quickly become unconscious and force them to drown. It’s not a hopeless case as it may sound like; there are some ways through which you can prevent casualties and death of paddlers.

Go through the following checklist to prevent death during your watercraft adventure:

  • Check the weather forecast and plan for any potential changes.
  • Make sure all supplies are packed and ready to go.
  • Test all devices and equipment before departure.
  • Check the boat’s engine and battery status.
  • Remove any excess water and debris from the boat.
  • Make sure all reels and lines are taut and in good condition.
  • Create a personal safety plan to be followed in an emergency
  • Vessel registration information (or insurance policy)
  • Checklist of supplies and equipment
  • Chart of navigation
  • Copy of vessel’s certificate of registry
  • A clear map of the area you will be visiting
  • A weather report
  • Safety Plan
  • VHF radio
  • Emergency flares
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Tool kit
  • Sea charts or other navigational aids
  • Boating Accidents

Boating accidents are one of the most common and repeated causes of death for paddlers. People are bound to panic when their lives are at risk; similarly, occupants of the craft may get out of control in a panic situation.

Leading Cause for Paddlers

The boat eventually goes into an unstable position and capsizes quickly. In this situation, collision with other boats is more likely to happen. The other factors, such as debris, fishnet, and objects in the water, become another hurdle in getting control of the situation.


Hypothermia is a situation in which the human body starts losing heat due to low heat insulation. It becomes more complex and slower for the body to regenerate heat quickly.

It happens in small crafts including canoes, kayaks, and rafts, as these vessels do not have needed heat insulations.

It’s the main reason it’s so important to dress appropriately for safety and weather needs.

Once the paddler is drowning and fighting to get back up, the cold water turns its body into a hypothermia state. It leads to cardiovascular collapse, which can turn your body into a completely shutdown state.


Unfortunately, sunscreen cannot help you in this situation as you struggle to move along your craft and get highly dehydrated. You are in the open space with bare minimum shadow space, and if you are not covered properly and utterly hydrated, you may pass out quickly.

Try to avoid going paddling between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm; it’s risky to be out in the sun during this period.


Paddlers must know they are out in the wild, not in artificially controlled environments. Natural habitats function in their way and can have a specific impact on you, too. It’s acceptable to have fun, enjoy a bit, and get into a wild, adventurous spirit; however, keeping track of what you consume while out in the sea is also mandatory.

Although, the safety concerns are not limited ot only what you consume but also related to what you touch and inhale. Most of the islands, beaches, and underwater plants have poisonous effects on your health. Some toxic plants can have extremely deadly effects on you. Run for your life if you ever see any of these during your watercraft adventure:

  • Poison Ivy (skin irritation)
  • Poison Oak.
  • Poison Sumac.
  • Giant Hogweed.
  • Stinging Nettle.
  • Australian Stinging Tree.
  • Wild Parsnip.
  • Poison Hemlock.
  • Sumac (fatal if ingested)

Inhaling the pungent smell of these plants and digesting them can cause death for paddlers, recreational kayakers, and canoeists. Be aware of the ecosystem of the place you are planning to paddle.


Dehydration is the most common and leading cause of death for paddlers in small craft as such in canoes, kayaks, and rafts.

It’s a basic safety sense that if you have decided to paddle in the morning and afternoon, you can quickly get dehydrated and exhausted.

Take the following as a sign and paddle back quietly during your water adventure:

Excessive sweating,Poor water intake,
Lost fluids through evaporationDizziness, Headaches, Nausea.
The inability to think clearly,Cardiac arrest,

If you encounter any of these signs, your body is giving you signals as your cells become depleted of water and essential minerals. If not given proper energy, your cells will die quickly and force your body to turn into survival mode.


Beaches, rivers, and watercraft experience demands a little enjoyment. People opt for a few drinks, concerts, and, along with that, a little boating experience.

There is a high chance that your friends drink too much, and this problematic decision leads you to paddle small crafts and have fun in the sea. Drug usage can affect your logical thinking, and you may lose control over the vessel while paddling.

The goal is to avoid drinking and using drugs before paddling in small crafts, involving canoes, kayaks, and rafts.

Neglecting Safety Precautions

Being in nature and being involved in activities like Canoeing, Kayaking, and rafting have many health benefits. However, moving along with precautions in different ecosystems is better and requires extra safety measures.

Most of the paddlers who die during watercraft experience are those who neglect the safety precautions. The most basic safety measures involve wearing life jackets while in the water, bringing in proper clothing, and knowing your gear.

Paddling and Kayaking Do’s and Don’ts

There is no debate on whether to go on a watercraft as paddling and Kayaking. It is a scary yet refreshing activity that you must involve yourself in at least once in your life. Nonetheless, like everything else, here are some do’s and don’ts to help ensure a safe and fun recreational experience.


Practice with Pro

The best way to ensure safety during paddling is by practicing with the pro. Suppose you get a hold of a professional paddler pro at paddling canoe, kayak, and rafts. Consider them your raft buddy and let them take the lead. You will have a secure exploration journey while learning something from your paddle buddy. Tagging with them will assure your safety and teach you the following things.

  • Learning Balance
  • Safe entry and exit
  • Stabilizing strokes
  • Rescue and recovery skills
  • Special moving water conditions
  • How to operate on low-head dams and strainers

Work on Your Swimming Skills

This one comes in handy in the desperate needs of time. You can also act like a hero by playing the role of “rescuer” in times of need. Learn a few useful tricks, such as how to give CRP, how to swim while carrying someone, which water plants to avoid touching, etc.

Proper Gears

In nature, the more securely you are dressed, the less prone you are to ecosystem damage. Cover your sleeves and body as much as possible, prefer wearing lifejackets, and keep it snug. If you have other occupants on the boat, instruct and encourage them to wear lifejackets, too.

Respect the Space

If your raft can fit 13 people, only 13 should be on board. No exceptions should be allowed. The safety of yourself and others is in your hands. Taking another trip with the next kayak or canoe will take little time, but it will increase the chances of safety, too.


Never Paddle Alone

When they say unity is strength, they are referring to situations like these, where you are one move away from a total disaster. Work together in synergy and know that there is safety in numbers.

No Drugs

It’s best for everyone if you are not intoxicated while on board. Avoid consuming drugs and alcohol, and do not be under the influence of any drugs.

Equipment Recheck

Make sure to recheck the gears and any loose screws, and you have a solid good quality paddle. These tools are the only things you should be relying on in nature.

To Recap – Death for Paddlers in Small Crafts

Water enthusiasts don’t let fear take over them while having fun. They are undoubtedly attracted to some of the intense watercrafts involving canoes, snorkeling, standup paddle boarding, and waterboarding. However, these activities will likely involve accidents that can lead to death. There are some leading causes of death for paddlers in small crafts, such as canoes, kayaks, and rafts. Most of these causes are drowning, lack of experience, inebriation, weather conditions, equipment failure, hypothermia, and boating accidents. Undoubtedly entertainment arousal can excite anyone however considering the safety measures first can safe us from a lot of troubles.


How often do paddlers drown in small boats, such as canoes, kayaks, and rafts?

Taking a small boat down a river or across a lake may be fun and safe. However, studies show that people using tiny boats like canoes, kayaks, and rafts are more than twice as likely to drown as those using bigger vessels.

In a boat, where should the heavier person sit?

The steering is done in the rear of the canoe. As a result, the more experienced paddler or the individual with better coordination should be at the canoe’s stern. Having the heavier person in the canoe’s back is also preferable when there are just two canoeists.

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