and others here who have posted about swimming. I'm often surprised these days to find how many non-swimmers are paddling in spite of how much emphasis is placed on paddling safety now. It just "does not compute" very well.
Yes, I know there are exceptions. Verlen Kruger was a non-swimmer. During the voyageur days, when A LOT of paddling was going on, "the companies" wanted non-swimming paddlers because they thought they were more likely to get their pelts home dry and undamaged if the folks in the boats had a "healthy" fear of swimming. But there were unnecessary fatalities - though I guess among voyageurs more died of untreated hernias form portages than by drowning or hypothermia. Still, this is now and that was then and those deaths were unnecessary.
I learned to swim as a kid at the YMCA before I paddled. I had no Scouting background, but read all the Scout manuals. In those days most paddlers who got any training at all (and most of us figured it out pretty much on our own) got it in the Scouts or in programs modeled on the Scouts. It seemed from the manuals that they taught paddling almost as an advanced stage of swimming - like an extension of a watersports program. You could move on to paddling after you were a good enough swimmer to do a high dive without belly-flopping, swim a mile or two, could side-stroke another swimmer in, and tread water for a few minutes with a weight. Then you could canoe or kayak. Judging by the manuals it seems they spent as much time playing around in swamped canoes as paddling. PFDs were almost an afterthought then, like useful accessories but that they weren't thought of as prerequisites for paddling. Fairly good swimming skills were the prerequisites.
Seems like the attitude has almost reversed these days. Faith now seems to be largely placed on PFDs, paddle floats, assisted rescues, electronic connection with rescue services, and such. Swimming is the afterthought, and I'm not sure this is really all for the better. Its all good, of course, but perhaps a newcomer these days isn't as impressed as might be wise in the importance of swimming. Many of us who have been doing this for a while don't think of it much because we don't dump all that often.
A non-swimmer or poor swimmer, even in a PFD, is very likely to be, if not panicked, at least nervous enough after a dump to not think very clearly. (You know who you are.) They may try to swim upstream in a channel or against a rip tide until exhausted. They may swim for a strainer to grab on to and get tangled up. They may try to walk as soon as they can and get into foot entrapment situations. On lakes or the ocean it's probable that swimming conditions aren't exactly ideal or they wouldn't have dumped in the first place. Swimming a distance in waves is not like swimming the same distance in a pool. This is not a good position for a beginner to ever be in and is absolutely dangerous solo, PFD or no. My advise, for what its worth, is to ask yourself if this might be you and, if so, don't solo just yet.
There is no substitute for being calm in the water and the best way to learn that is by spending time in the water. Like you must in order to learn swimming. Besides, its fun and good exercise.
Do that and solo paddling might well become one of the greatest joys of your life. The wildlife viewing is always better solo. Its nice to paddle without counting boats or thinking about what kind of mess others in a group might get themselves in. Its nice to pay the price for our own possible mistakes ourselves without considering what the PCers in any crowd think about our choices. Its simpler. (Well, except maybe for the shuttle thing...) The serenity of being on the water alone is unsurpassed in my experience. It hones paddling judgment - you won't let yourself get blown too far down a windy lake twice. You'll know absolutely how large a wave or rapid you're comfortable dealing with. Constantly surrounding ourselves with a "safety net" of other paddlers isn't necessarily always good for our judgment or skills.
There's a time and place for both solo and group paddling.
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