In order to enjoy, prepare for worst

Published January 18, 2007

The Department of Environmental Protection has done an excellent job planning the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail, a 1,500-mile kayak route around the state.

With campsites and other lodging located about 10 to 15 miles apart, even a novice can plan and complete an overnight kayak/camping trip.

The state Web site (www.dep.state.fl.us, follow the links to Greenways and Trails) is a good place to start. Buy a chart book for the section you plan to paddle. A minute of preparation can save you an hour on the water.

Although the trail passes many populated areas, kayakers should assume that they will be on their own and plan accordingly. Make a list of what you'll need weeks in advance and make sure all gear is in working order.

Most experienced paddlers choose enclosed, fiberglass kayaks, but a plastic sit-on-top (with hatches) will suffice for short trips. Wind may be a factor so, if possible, choose a boat with a rudder.

Never paddle without a personal floatation device, and bring a whistle, headlamp, signal mirror and flares.

Many paddling trails are well marked, but rain and fog can reduce visibility, making it difficult to identify landmarks, so a handheld GPS is recommended. Your cell phone may work in some areas, but don't count on it. A handheld VHF radio is a good backup in case of emergency.

The prime paddling time in Florida is now through April. Before you leave, file a "float plan" with a friend or relative, explaining where you are going and when you plan to return. Never paddle alone.

Find a tide chart for the area, so you can use the wind and current to your advantage. Finally, don't forget a camera - and have fun.