Safety is one of those topics that need to be revisited on a regular basis. Not only is safety a state of preparation and a habit (hopefully) but one of attitude and mental vigilance. One must act safely and think safety.
It is extremely important that canoeists are aware of the safety requirements of canoes (kayaks, rowboats and rowing shells have the similar requirements) as mandated by the Canadian Coast Guard.
Two pieces of personal protection equipment are needed. One is a Canadian approved personal floatation device (PFD) or lifejacket of appropriate size for each person on board. It isn’t necessary to wear a PFD but one sitting in the bottom of the boat doesn’t save you if it floats away while you cling to a sweeper/snag in fast current or the wind carries it away. Floatation devices that are ripped or in poor condition are not considered approved. The other piece of equipment is one buoyant heaving line of not less than 15 m in length. Now that is a long piece of rope and if left loose in the bottom of a canoe can cause tangled feet should the canoe over-turn. Note that it is to be buoyant which means that it is to float but getting tangled in it still can happen. Therefore, make sure that it is in a bag that can float easily. This rope is used in rescue and comes in very handy to secure the canoe to a tree or large rock upon disembarking on shore.
Two pieces of boat safety equipment are required. You must have one paddle (a manual propelling device) and one bailer (can be a manual water pump). A spare paddle is always good insurance. What works well for a bailer is a round plastic 4 litre bleach bottle with a lid that has the bottom removed at an angle on the same side as the handle. Some people have it tied from the handle to the canoe with a rope long enough enable you to easily scoop out the water while still being tied. Some men find it convenient as a urinal!
Two pieces of navigation equipment are required. One is a sound-signalling device or appliance. A whistle attached to your life jacket works. If you are out canoeing after sunset and before sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility you are required to have appropriate navigation lights. Review Collision Regulations for more details on lights.
The above are the basics to canoeing safety in general. If you are going on an extended canoe trip then other safety considerations would be required. That said, there are some exceptions for racing canoes (as well as racing kayaks and rowing shells). A racing canoe is not required to carry the above mentioned equipment if it and its crew are engaged in formal training or in an official competition and it carries a PFD or life jacket of appropriate size for each member, a sound signalling device, and if it is operated after sunset and before sunrise, a watertight flashlight.
What does this mean for MCRABC members? It means that we recommend highly that you wear your life jacket in all races. It is mandatory for the Prince George race because of the cold, snow-melt from the mountains is often at its peak mid June. There is now a much wider range of comfortable and fashionable PFDs available including a variety of colours, ones designed with women in mind, and in various inflatable configurations. When shopping keep in mind your need for visibility on or in the water. Get a comfortable PFD and wear it!
Other common-sense safety suggestions for training: 1) Carry a spare paddle. 2) Tie a rope on the canoe – ensure that it is tied in such a manner that it will not tangle your feet should you go-over. 3) Put extra floatation (inflated plastic beach ball works well) in a solo boat if you are out alone on big water and/or you are a novice. 4) Safety in numbers. Train with another boat. 5) Evaluate the risks. Wait out that storm. Get off the water if lightening looms. Find a safer route to avoid rocks, rapids, wind-driven troughs, motorized boat waves, and icebergs. 6) Don’t attach around your neck a "secure” drinking tube. Should disaster hit, the tube must be able to come unattached immediately.
Make sure that your canoe is secured well on your vehicle during transportation. A canoe can be replaced but the potential on the roadway for injuring another driver/vehicle is real.