Local kayaking expert offers tips to stay safe on the water

The long holiday weekend may have provided some paddlers the chance to get on the water for the first time this year. Others venturing out might never have paddled a river before.

Bill Cacciolfi of Yellow Springs has seen a lot — some not good — in his 40 years leading far-flung adventures including kayaking and whitewater rafting trips to places like China, Europe, India and Indonesia.

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“I’ve seen every possible nightmare you can imagine,” Cacciolfi said. “I’ve seen people canoeing with kids in their backpack on their back – no life jacket. I’ve seen that. I’ve seen people tie their little dogs into the canoe. They flip the canoe. The canoe pins the dog. The dog drowns.”

Cacciolfi also helped design whitewater features for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and the East Race Waterway, a man-made rafting course in South Bend, Ind.

The Dayton Daily News caught up with the adventurer who just returned to Ohio from leading a trip on the upper Zambezi River in Africa with his company New World Expeditions.

Here are some of Cacciolfi’s tips for staying safe on the water:

What to wear

“Never, ever wear any cotton clothing. Wear all the breathable stuff that wicks dry … You’ll freeze to death. You can get hypothermia on a 60-degree day wearing cotton clothes … You need to wear wet suit material – the wickable, breathing stuff. That’s most important.”

Ditch the jewelry

“The water is cold, it makes your fingers shrink, you’re going to lose wedding rings … Don’t wear earrings that are going to get caught on a life jacket. Watches are OK. If you want to lose your Rolex in the river, that’s your deal.”

Protect your skin

“Put sunscreen on all exposed areas, especially on the tops of your ears and your nose. Put some lip balm on your lips because you’re on the river and the wind blows and your lips are going to get dry.”

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Protect your feet

“Don’t go barefoot. Wear a nice wet suit booty or a type of shoe that’s got a sole on it so you’re not walking on glass or sharp rocks on the bottom of the river. And something that won’t come off in the mud and here you are walking around with one shoe and the other’s buried in the mud.”

PFDs for everyone, including Fido

“If you’re bringing a canine. Make sure the canine has a PFD. Don’t tie it into the canoe … I’ve done CPR on a dog in West Virginia and tried to bring it back … If you have kids and you’re canoeing with them, they must have a PFD that floats and with back support. That means it has a neck brace in back.”

Top it off

“You’re going to want to wear a helmet if you’re in any type of a sitting craft like a kayak. You don’t need a helmet in a canoe. But any boat that you have your legs underneath a deck, you need to mandatorily wear a helmet … Even if it’s a bike helmet, that’s better than nothing.”

Never go it alone

“It sounds romantic to paddle alone in nature, but you are at a severe risk. Someone could get injured or get stung by a bee and go into anaphylactic shock … For flatwater paddling I say a minimum of two people and for whitewater a minimum of three.”

Water, no alcohol

“Alcohol and whitewater or canoeing don’t mix. But you want to have plenty of water on the river.”

Hold onto your paddle

“Make sure when you flip you always have a hold of your paddle. You can have a nice canoe, but if you don’t have a paddle to get yourself downstream, you’re screwed.”

If you capsize, get to the side of boat

“Never get on the downstream side of that boat. If you hit a rock, that canoe full of water is going to hit you and you are talking 2,000 pounds that’s going to pin you to a rock. If you flip your boat whether it’s a kayak or canoe, always get to the side of it. Try not to get to the upstream end of it either. Always get to the side of it so you can push it forward and backward and get it to shore … Try not to get to the upstream side, because if it hits a rock and you get pinned on that you could go underneath it and now you’re wedged.”

Toes up

“Never, ever stand up in moving water. You always float on your back. Let your butt hit the rocks. Keep your feet up so you can see your toes and try to swim your craft to one shore or the other.”

Let it go

“There’s absolutely nothing on that river you can’t replace later. Do not sacrifice your life chasing after your cooler or your radio.”

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