Paddlers are more exposed to the elements than boaters on power and sail craft and should wear the personal protective clothing, including dry or wet suits, appropriate for the water temperature where they are paddling.
"Dress for the swim; it's not if, but when," said Mike Baron, recreational safe boating specialist for the U.S. Coast Guard Ninth District.
Paddlers don't just need to wear the proper gear, but also need to equip their boats with required and recommended safety gear, such as a hand-held VHF-FM radio, a personal locator beacon (PLB) and flares.
Paddlesports continue to be the fastest growing segment of recreational boating, with more than 450,000 registered paddlecraft in the Great Lakes region.
"It's like riding a bike: inexpensive, accessible, and fun," Baron said. "Don't cheap out on your life; get the right gear for your safety."
New and inexperienced paddlers should seek out paddler education before heading out on the water. Safety courses are offered through the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary and other state and local agencies, which are often offered at little or no cost.