by Bill Mauney

Just as a pilot files a Flight Plan before every flight with the FAA, so too, it is a good idea for touring kayakers to do the same thing.  For example, when I paddle out to Cape Lookout or Shackelford Banks from the National Seashore Headquarters on Harkers Island, I file a Float Plan with the Ranger on duty.  They have made it a habit to ask all sea kayakers to do this before departing the nearby launch site on Shell Point.  Before Float Plans, Rangers spent unnecessary energy and expense, sometimes risking their own lives to follow-up on a phone call from a loved one who was worried about an overdue kayaker.  Sometimes these kayakers have been in serious trouble.  Other times, they just changed their plans without telling anyone.

There are two keys to properly using a Float Plan.  The first is to file it with a responsible person/ emergency contact at home and, if possible, with a local agency near the paddling site.  You want to choose folks who will not panic, but will act prudently and wisely if you are overdue.  The information you supply on the Float Plan will give them the resources they need to systematically begin the process of looking for you, starting with seeing if your vehicle is still parked at the return site.  The information is detailed enough to aid in a full blown SAR (Search And Rescue) should that be needed.

The second step is to notify the person and organization you filed the Float Plan with as soon as you are safely off of the water.  You don’t want them launching a SAR if you returned early and are leisurely sampling seafood and BBQ on the road trip home. Yum!

I have put together a blank Float Plan Form (PDF) that you can print and fill out for each touring trip.  The more details you include, the better the information authorities will have if it might be needed.

Paddling safely on the water requires that you use the most important single piece of safety gear you have.  You will find it located between your ears.  The Float Plan allows you to use that gear to think through and talk through each trip with your paddling companions and your loved ones who may find themselves unnecessarily worried because of lack of information.

Happy Paddling!

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