Safety Tips for Paddle Fishermen

    January is one of the best months to fish out of a kayak. Extreme tides make it easy for paddle fishermen to get to spots where their boat-bound brethren dare not go.

    But before you head out, make sure you follow these basic boating safety rules:

    Consult the weather report: If the wind is greater than 10 mph, stay home. Most people will have trouble paddling in high wind. It is better to be safe than sorry. Most paddlers shouldn't go out if the weather service issues a small-craft advisory.

    Wear that life jacket: Studies show that four of five boating-related deaths could have been prevented had the victims simply been wearing a piece of safety equipment, a personal floatation device commonly referred to as a life jacket.

    Make a spectacle of yourself: PFDs are no place for subtlety. Orange, red or yellow PFDs are more visible to rescuers than blue or green. Make sure your PFD's pockets are stuffed with a whistle, signal mirror and some sort of light, such as a strobe or pocket flares, so you can alert passing boats or planes to your predicament.
    Carry communications gear: Stow your cell phone in a dry bag and bring it along. Or get a waterproof VHF radio or a personal locator beacon (PLB), which is a smaller version of a standard EPIRB (emergency positioning radio indicating beacon), to contact rescue personnel.

    File a float plan: If you head out for a paddle, make sure you tell someone where you're going and when you plan to return. Then, if you don't turn up as planned, authorities will know where to begin their search.

    Know your limits: If you've never paddled on open water, winter is probably not the time to start, especially if you go solo. Seek out a group led by an experienced fishing guide.

    A final word to the wise: As the legendary polar explorer Roald Amundsen once said, "Adventure is just bad planning." Your most important piece of survival equipment, should disaster strike, will be your mind.