Kayaking looks like a simple, safe activity, but there's danger any time you go on the water, even in one of these seemingly foolproof craft. "The weather can change on a dime," says Dave McPherson, who's been paddling for a decade. "And the water conditions are deceiving. The air can be 70 degrees but the water can be in the 40s – if you fall in you can get chilled and develop hypothermia very quickly.
"Most people buy kayaks without any instruction," he continues. "You don't need to get a license or pass a test to go out on the Sound. It can get pretty scary if something goes wrong and you're not prepared." The dangers have gained publicity in recent years because of several kayak mishaps, culminating in the death of two kayakers in Wilton last autumn.
The result is Kayak and Canoe Safety Awareness Week from Monday, May 23 to Sunday, May 29. The highlight event will be a safety clinic sponsored by Outdoor Sports Center and conducted by McPherson on Thursday, May 26, at 6 p.m. at Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk. "We'll do a verbal presentation then move to the pier to do some basic safety protocols and maneuvers," he said.
Since kayakers need more instruction than can be given in a brief clinic, McPherson and three fellow kayakers, all certified by the American Canoe Association, have formed an instructional service called Sea Kayak Connecticut. They will be offering single-session, three-hour classes at the Outdoor Sports Center’s demo pond in Wilton. "It's very focused, with an emphasis on self- and assisted rescue," he said. The classes are small, limited to five students for each instructor. "We like to have three people of similar ability level in a class," McPherson said. Registration is available online. "Most of the classes are on weekends, but we'll offer some on weeknights, now that the days are longer," he said.
The basic techniques aren't hard," McPherson said. "We just want to make them automatic, establish a solid, quick way to get back in the boat."