Organization holds safety course to prepare canoers, kayakers for the water

8 kayakers. That’s how many people the La Crosse Fire Department says it has rescued in the last two weeks, and there have been other calls for help.

Alarmed by the number of rescues and deaths out on area waterways, one organization is making sure people know what it takes to be ready out on the water.

You might think that it only happens to other people, but that’s not always the case.

“But the reality is, is that [it does happen] because I’ve had it to me before,” said Jonathan Ringdahl, a safety instructor.

Ringdahl is a level two instructor through the American Canoe Association, which means he’s been through a lot of training.

“I’ve pulled a muscle in my chest, and I was in the water and I couldn’t get back in my kayak,” Ringdahl said, remembering a close call.

Luckily, he had a friend with him who was able to help. But not all are as fortunate.

Last Saturday, a Winona man died after going over a spillway in a boat. On Thursday, two kayakers were rescued on the La Crosse River.

“We care about our community of paddlers, and we’d like to see everybody be safe, but the best way to do that is to be prepared and get an education,” said Megan Tomlinson, the secretary for the La Crosse Paddling Club.

That’s why the nonprofit is educating the community about proper technique, balance and safety.

“What to do if you capsize, wet exit, and self-rescue, what it looks like in terms of current down the La Crosse River,” Tomlinson said about the different parts of the training.

Because paddling in a kayak or other watercraft is more than just going forward and backward. Knowing the various techniques can allow you to help a friend or yourself.

“Especially around here, most of our paddling is done on rivers, which are moving environments and there can be quite a few hazards out there,” Ringdahl said.

So before you go out, make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you expect to come back home. Know the waterways and find out if there are any potential dangers. But most importantly, always wear a life jacket.

“Mine goes on every time because you just never know what is going to happen,” Ringdahl said.

So how do you know if you’re wearing the right life jacket?

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary says that you should adjust your jacket so its snug and comfortable. But it should not lift up when pulled by the shoulders. Make sure it has a Coast Guard-approved label.

Have a whistle, mirror or other devices in the pocket of the jacket in case you need to signal for help. You’ll also want to have a flashlight for when it gets dark out.

While a personal flotation device may not always be required by law, professionals say it’s not worth the risk.

“Anything can happen on a kayak, a powerboat, anything. You can go ahead and take a fall and become unconscious and if you don’t have that [Personal Flotation Device] it’s really hard to go ahead and find somebody submerged in any sort of water versus having a PFD, you’re noticeable [and] you float,” said Daniel Goodman, a marine safety officer with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

For more information on finding the right type of life jacket, go to SafeBoatingCampaign.com.

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