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Protecting Yourself When Paddling In Polluted Waters

Polluted water is an unfortunate reality that many paddlers must face, especially those who live in major metropolitan regions. Many rivers, lakes, and bays can become so polluted at times that it is not only undesirable to paddle in the water, but it can be downright unsafe. Water pollution comes in many forms and can vary significantly in its severity. Regardless of the type of water pollution, you must keep yourself safe if you plan to embark on a paddling journey in polluted water.

When paddling in polluted water you need to take precautions, including covering your skin, especially your hands, and avoid touching your face or opening your mouth while paddling. Take extra precautions not to capsize, and talk to local experts to understand the exact type of pollution you are dealing with. Try to choose days and times when pollution is less severe. Avoid polluted water if you have any cuts or open wounds.

While paddling in polluted water is not a desirable scenario, it can be a safe one in some cases, as long as you take several precautions, and know exactly what type of pollution you are dealing with. You must take precautions when paddling in polluted water, as these waters can cause several negative effects, from headaches and skin irritation, to horrible viruses and severe infections.

Five Ways Water Pollution Effects Your Safety On A Paddling Trip

1. Skin Irritation

Polluted water in some instances can cause skin irritation. The main reason for this is that water pollution often changes the pH of water, usually making it more acidic. This change in pH can irritate your skin. If you have eczema or any other skin conditions, then you are at an even higher risk of having a severe skin reaction when paddling in polluted water.

2. Harmful Bacteria And Viruses

Polluted water is also a breeding ground for all sorts of harmful bacteria and pathogens. Everything from norovirus (which causes horrible vomiting and diarrhea) to typhoid, and many others can thrive in polluted waters. These viruses and bacteria are more likely in waters that have been affected by a sewage leak or a flooding event.

3. Nausea

Nausea can come from bacteria in the water, and also bad smells you experience while on the water. Even if you don’t swallow any water, you might still have an upset stomach due to a bad and toxic smell in the air.

4. Headaches Caused By Fumes

Bad smells and fumes can also cause headaches. This is particularly true if you have a sensitive sense of smell, or if you are prone to headaches. If you get headaches, especially migraines, you should be aware of this, as paddling with a migraine is quite dangerous.

5. Higher Risk Of Infection

Almost any type of polluted water puts a paddler at a high risk of infection. If you have even a minor cut or scrape, it can become infected easily if it comes in contact with polluted water. Certain viruses like leptospirosis can enter the body through a scrape or cut, and do serious damage to your body.

7 Ways To Protect Yourself From Potentially-Polluted Water

Paddling in polluted water is not ideal. Certainly, every kayaker and SUP lover would prefer to only explore crystal-clear waters with perfect visibility and zero toxins. Unfortunately, that is not the reality for most people. The good news is there are ways to protect yourself and mitigate any negative effects that accompany paddling in polluted water. Below are some great ways to protect yourself and stay safe if you choose to paddle in unclean waters.

1. Be Wary Of Waters After A Major Storm

If you plan to go kayaking or SUP boarding after a storm or flooding event you must ensure the water is safe. Not only should you make sure there are no dangerous currents or obstructions in the water, but there is also a higher risk of pollution.

Make sure there are no sewage leaks or runoff. If the water looks like chocolate milk but usually looks clear, then wait a few days. Murky water tends to hide toxins. If you can wait a few extra days, the water will be safer.

2. Choose A Time When Water Is Less Polluted (When Possible)

If the body of water in question is salt water, then it is likely affected by tides. Stagnant low tides often result in the highest concentration of pollution. As the tide rises, cleaner water from the sea (usually) comes in to make the water less polluted.

Understand the tides and how they affect the water where you plan to paddle. Waiting a few hours can make a huge difference when it comes to water visibility, cleanliness, and even your overall enjoyment and safety.

3. Take Extra Precautions To Ensure You Don’t Capsize

When you are paddling the goal is always to stay in the vessel, rather than in the water. When you are paddling in polluted waters you want to be especially careful not to fall in. If you capsize in polluted water you can have many more issues than if you tumbled into pristine water.

You can get infections, illnesses, and other ailments. You should also end your paddle right away to get cleaned up and clean yourself thoroughly. Make sure your boat is balanced and you aren’t taking any unnecessary risks when paddling in less-than-clean water.

4. Choose The Least Polluted Spot Within The Selected Area

Most bodies of water, regardless of their cleanliness, have their cleanest areas and their dirtiest areas. When possible, try to paddle around the clearest areas. If you can launch and disembark your kayak in the cleanest spots, this is also ideal.

5. Talk To Local Experts About Water Quality

If you have any suspicion or worry about water quality, you should get an educated professional opinion. Lots of lakes have lost volume in recent years, and some have become dangerously polluted.

Ask local fish and wildlife experts or even local paddling experts about water conditions. They are often the best sources when it comes to knowing whether or not a body of water is safe to paddle in.

6. Understand The Type Of Pollution You Are Dealing With

You must remember that not all types of pollution are the same. Different types and causes of water pollution can result in different potential hazards. Therefore, knowing the type of water pollution you are dealing with helps you know how you must protect yourself.

Knowing the potential hazards allows you to dress, pack, and paddle accordingly. Knowing how polluted waters can inflict harm on you will make you much more cautious and aware when paddling in these less-than-ideal conditions.

7. Always Wash Your Hands Before Touching Face Or Eating

Hand washing is an important part of staying clean in your day-to-day life. It is also critical to practice excellent handwashing habits when you find yourself paddling in polluted waters. You might think that once your hands are dry the dangers of water pollution have evaporated, but this is not the case.

Bacteria can live on your skin long after water has evaporated. Therefore you must wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly before you eat with your hands. Also refrain from touching your face before washing your hands, especially your eyes, nose, and mouth area.

Signs That Paddling Waters Are Dangerously Polluted

Pollution comes in varying degrees. Almost every body of water (at least the more frequented ones) has some level of pollution. The key is knowing when waters are slightly polluted, and when they are dangerously polluted.

Below are signs that water is dangerously polluted and you should seriously reconsider paddling in these waters. Paddling in waters with the below symptoms can put your safety and health at risk.

  • Dead Fish Or Animals In The Water Or On Shoreline: One of the biggest and most obvious red flags to look out for when you are trying to spot water pollution is a dead animal. If you see multiple dead fish floating in the water or along the shores, or other dead animals, this is a major warning sign. Dead animals floating in the way indicates very toxic water, and you should not enter these waters for any reason.

  • Noticeable Bad Smell In The Water: If you approach a body of water and notice a bad smell, this could be a sign of extreme water pollution. Sure, some water has funky smells due to marine life and other natural causes. But if you notice chemical smells, sewage smells, or any smell you can’t identify as natural, then you might be entering dangerously polluted waters.

  • Signage Suggesting Not To Enter Water: When water becomes temporarily unsafe and toxic there are often signs placed near points of entry, or in parking lots. Make sure you always look out for signage before launching your kayak, as there can be very important safety information posted. If there is a sign suggesting contaminated waters and no swimming, then you should find a different place to paddle.

  • Color Or Oil Slicks In Water: While water pollution is often invisible to the naked eye, there are some instances when it can be seen. If you see a strange change in the color of the water, this could be pollution. If you see oil slicks or other metallic or oily swirls on the surface of the water then you are probably looking at dangerously contaminated water.

Summing Up How To Stay Safe When Paddling In Polluted Water

Contaminated water is not the type of water you want to kayak, SUP board, or canoe in. Unfortunately, water pollution is becoming more and more common, especially in highly populated areas. Therefore, you should know how to identify contaminated water, know how it can hurt you, and know the ways to maintain your safety in these toxic waters.

Make sure you protect your skin when paddling in polluted waters, and always wash your hands thoroughly before eating or touching your face after paddling. Know the type of pollution you are dealing with so you can know how you must protect yourself. Try to choose a time of day when pollution levels are lower, or find a cleaner spot to launch your paddling vessel.

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