Canoeing the WRT WayOur Standard Operating Procedures, Do's and Don'ts, and Much More!
How (& Sometimes Why) We Do It:
Whether you’re an old hand or just joining us, as with ANY team effort, we have established certain guidelines. These are for your safety, to increase your knowledge, and to enhance your experience with Wildlife Research Team. Safety is our prime concern! The health and comfort of our volunteers are also foremost.
So, each piece of WRT gear has its long-established purpose; please make sure that your canoe has the following:
- Paddles (as in, don’t be up the creek…) WRT uses both double paddles (some call them kayak paddles, although we have some that are longer and with wider blades) and single paddles.
- Personal Flotation Device (PFD) for each person; it’s the law!
- Lines (rope; known also as the painters) attached to bow and stern; NEVER leave your canoe without taking a good grip on one of its lines! You’ll be so embarrassed if it blows away and others have to fetch it for you.
- Seat backs & Cushions, for your comfort, but also to help you brace yourself when using a double paddle.
- Sponges & Bailers, for safety; keep your footing dry
- Small net, to pick up trash or an item that fell overboard
- Boathook, an excellent tool for cleanups! Of course, when keeping your neighbor’s canoe next to yours for various reasons, it’s great; but it extends your reach so that you may extract items buried deep in the shoreline foliage. When fully deployed, a boathook will add another 8 feet or so (and also is the best at pushing aside spider webs). The hook itself can be used to snag bottles and other types of trash with great aplomb!
- Anchor (small) with line, so you will stay put during lunch (not always needed, depends on location).
- Cooler with ice, liquids & snacks, to stay hydrated and strong; good to bring your own personal cooler for your canoe, because even though we frequently bring a larger cooler in a guide’s canoe, you might not be close enough when you need refreshment.
- Sunblock, hat, sunglasses, clothing (many shirts and pants now are treated with SPF) to protect from sun
- Bug spray, not always necessary but the guide keeps one bottle in his/her canoe just in case
- Trash bags, even if we aren’t on a cleanup, we always have a few just in case there’s something nasty out there
To Keep Yourself Safe & Comfortable, WRT Recommends
- Small knife, to cut fishing line and save a pelican’s life, among many other reasons
- Gloves for paddling or for work, a personal preference
- Shoes: Footwear is extremely important to your safety. NO flip-flops! They are far too dangerous! We prefer some sort of closed-toe “water shoe” that lets the water run through it while protecting your feet from broken glass, stones, and other hazards. Inexpensive “water socks” or even “dive booties” might suffice. Sturdy, Teva-type sandals are okay, but still not as protective as closed-toe shoes. Old, lightweight keds or tennis shoes, lightweight canvas with a gripping sole, are fine, but please do not wear huge basketball-type shoes, which become incredibly, dangerously heavy when wet.
- First-aid kit, a simple one to deal with cuts, blisters, etc.; there’s one always with the guide’s canoe but feel free to pack your own.
- Camera, although now people tend to use their cell phones, to record your day of adventure and how you got out and helped Mother Nature. Be sure to have some sort of waterproof bag for it. Paddling a canoe while trying to take photos is possible but a learned skill. When we started out, we discovered single-use cameras did a great job and if they got wet or lost, it wouldn’t be a tragedy. Always stow phones and cameras and similar expensive devices while getting into, and out of, your canoe, as those are the times when accidents usually happen.
- Waterproof bag(s): as above, have one for your camera/cell phone, something stronger than a zipping-type plastic bag. A heavier rubberized bag for your car keys, wallet and the like, that can fit under the canoe seat, is strongly advised. Although the trip leader will have a waterproof bag, unless you are in that person’s canoe, we would prefer to not hold these items for you.
- Rain jacket: lightweight, packable ones are recommended, and can be stowed in your personal waterproof bag. Fortunately, rainshowers in South Florida are never cold and rarely last too long.
- Towels: you might want to sit on a folded towel for an extra bit of comfort, and to keep a couple in your vehicle for your return.
- Spare clothing: Canoeing in South Florida means we dry out quickly! But, especially on cleanups, we do get dirty, so keep dry, clean clothes in your vehicle just in case.
and don’t forget…
- Balance, what you strive for when loading your canoe and/or moving around in it. To avoid a branch, lean forward, not to the side. Keep centered, keep low, relax, loosen up and you’ll be fine.
- Checklist, how we make sure we’ve brought everything!
More of How (& Sometimes Why) We Do It:
This can never be repeated enough: safety is WRT’s Number One Concern. We are very proud of our perfect safety record (since 1993!) and will make every effort to maintain it. Over the years, the policy has been established that the safety of the group is far more important than the preferences of an individual. Before coming out with us, we must make sure that everyone is on board with the guidelines that have made WRT a safety success.
Tandem Canoes are WRT’s basic work boats. They have two seats, but a third person (and sometimes even a fourth, depends on size and age, i.e. two smaller children with their parents) may ride in between, with cushions on the bottom of the canoe for comfort. Less experienced volunteers will be placed in the bow, with a more experienced paddler in the stern, as that’s where most of the steering takes place. Bonus is that the bow paddler gets the best view! Which also means, that’s the person responsible for watching out for obstructions in the water and calling out to the stern paddler. (Remember that the stern paddler won’t be able to hear you unless you call back over your shoulder.)
Solo Canoes are for the most experienced paddlers, the guides who are to keep an eye on everyone else, scooting around like a sheepdog guarding its flock. They are NOT for goofing off.
Before Leaving the WRT Canoe Shop:
Trailers are just as important as our canoes! They must also be well maintained, and thoroughly checked before a trip:
- Tire pressure
Tying the canoes down correctly on the trailers is a true art! We’ve come close, but never have lost a canoe off a trailer (or on the water!), because we thread a long cable through all of the canoes on the trailer, which is then padlocked. If you see something askew, say something to the guide or trip leader. Learn to spot loose straps, hooks and ropes. WRT uses canvas straps, two per canoe, as well as extra ropes and sometimes, bungee cords. Straps can expand or contract with heat and moisture; a strap that seemed tight a couple of hours ago may have loosened.
The canoe itself needs a last check before loading on the trailer; notice if the seat rivets are sound; if it has two lines and they are in good repair; if the hull is free of dents, and if it may need to be put into dry dock for repair, sanding, and repainting.
You’re part of our Team, so if you see something that doesn’t look right, please share your observation! Don’t be shy, always feel free to ask questions, because that’s how we learn. Make sure any problems are attended to before we hit the road, so a canoe won’t!
WRT canoes are proudly lettered with our name in BIG letters and the public is watching, so mind your manners! Remember, WE are the good guys! WE are role models to the children who are counting on us to clean up the environment for them and the wildlife they love.
DO: bring a friend (we need all the help we can get! Just let us know beforehand so we can accommodate everyone as space is always limited);
DO: let us know the day before if you can’t make it. That way, we can notify another person who might be eagerly waiting for the chance to come out. It’s also our long-held policy that we only cancel at the launch site. Remember, in South Florida it might be raining at your house but perfectly sunny where the trip will take place.
DO: sign the Volunteer Release Form (and know the phone number of your emergency contact, who should NOT be the other person in your canoe!)
DON’T: pollute (it defeats our purpose). This includes cigarette butts. If you must smoke, keep your butts to yourself! Those things last forever!
DON’T: drink alcohol or use drugs. Zero tolerance, for safety reasons. If you’re impaired, you are not functioning at the level required for safe boating, and you are thereby endangering the whole excursion for us all. Canoes are far more likely to tip if you’re tipsy!
DON’T: forget to go over the Checklist before leaving the WRT canoe shop.
DON’T: go off by yourself unless you tell someone else.
DON’T: get out of your canoe without grabbing a line.
DON’T: forget to check every single strap when the canoes are on the trailer and departure is imminent.
DON’T: lean too far to one side, or you (and your fellow paddler) could get wet!
DON’T: follow too closely. Leave a canoe-length between you and the canoe in front, and keep an eye on the canoe behind you. Running into each other is embarrassing and could result in tipping over and dumping!
DO: follow the wilderness law, of always keeping in sight of the canoes in front of and behind you. People can get into trouble so quickly on the water.
DO: be courteous to your co-paddler; you are a team!
DO: use sunblock, and wear a hat. Skin cancer is a fact of life in Florida.
DO: protect your feet by wearing shoes, as above. Shorelines are loaded with glass, metal and other hazards!
DO: drink lots of water, especially on a hot day. People are afraid they’ll have to find a bathroom, but in our experience, you’re more likely to sweat it out, so please don’t endanger yourself and others by becoming dehydrated.
DO: have lots of fun!
- The front is the Bow, the back is the Stern, as in any boat.
- The small surfaces on the bow and stern are Decks.
- The top edges of the sides of the canoe are the Gunwales, pronounced “gunnels.”
- The amount of space between the gunwales and the surface of the water is the Freeboard. If your canoe is too heavily loaded, there may not be enough freeboard and a wave could slop in, and sink you.
- The Thwart is the bar that crosses from gunwale to gunwale in the approximate center of the canoe, and stabilizes the canoe. In other words, it “thwarts” the canoe from folding up! NEVER SIT ON THE THWART. Your center of gravity is so high that the canoe will be “nervous.” You do not want the canoe to be nervous. Nervous canoes are prone to tipping or dumping. If the canoe is happy, you are happy, trust us on this.
If the canoe happens to flip or tip, always stay with the canoe. Do NOT swim away from it, but HOLD ONTO IT because it will remain buoyant and you’ll be easier to rescue. Relax and wait for assistance.
And try standing up, because you may be in shallow water!