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What you need to know before you kayak, paddleboard in East Tennessee

Whether you're an experienced paddler or thinking of trying it out for the first time, there are some tips to consider to make your trip fun and safe.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — From lakes to rivers to quarries, East Tennessee has no shortage of opportunities to hit the water.

With the rise in popularity of kayaks and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), these outdoor adventures are more accessible than ever. 

Whether you're an experienced paddler or thinking of trying it out for the first time, there are some tips to consider to make your trip fun and safe.

Before you go:

Get familiar with your equipment. Make sure your paddle is the proper length (a SUP paddle T grip should touch the palm of your hand when you reach above your head). Rental places are great resources to ask questions. 

"We get people in daily that have never kayaked or paddle boarded and they have a great time, and it's just a matter of putting yourself out there and asking questions if you don't know," said Jon Terry, the owner and proprietor of Knoxville Adventure Collective.

Check the weather.

Pay attention to lake levels, river currents and generation flows around dams, especially after heavy rains. You can check the lake levels on TVA's website.

Make a plan and tell someone. Know where you're going and how long you plan to be out.

"You don't want to get yourself caught in a situation that gets you over your head," Terry said

While it's not required for kayaks and paddleboards, TWRA still invites anyone to its free boating safety course. It is required for anyone born after Jan. 1, 1989, to use a boat that is motorized or sail-driven. A fishing license is required for everyone 13 and up.

What you need: 

You need to have a life jacket on board, and everyone under 13 years old needs to wear one, even if you're just floating around. 

Jeff Roberson, a wildlife officer with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said about 25% of the state's waterway fatalities involve paddlesports: canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.

"A lot of time just because they're not wearing that life jacket. They fall overboard unexpectedly or they're ejected and can't reboard or they can't swim back to their boat," Roberson said.

Wear sunscreen. Bring plenty of water. It's hot outside.

Have a way to signal or call for help. A whistle can get another boater's attention. A bright white light will make you visible if the sun goes down or bad weather moves in.

On the water:

Keep yourself relaxed and loose. Don't grip the paddle too hard or you'll get blisters. Don't lock your knees on a SUP.

Be aware of what's around you and keep a lookout. Make sure other boats can see you. Wave at them. Remember you are a slower-moving vessel and sit low in the water.  

Be smart about where you paddle. Stay close to the bank. Choose the shortest route if you need to cross. Pass other boats on the right whenever possible.  Avoid high traffic areas. 

"You're allowed to be there. It's just not smart to be there," Roberson said.

Don’t overload your canoe/kayak/SUP. They're lighter than other boats and cannot carry as much weight.

Know your limits. Make sure you have enough energy to get back where you started. It's easy to get swept away by the current and hard to paddle back against it.

Do not litter. The wildlife and future boaters will thank you.

It's illegal to use or have drugs while paddling. It's illegal to drink or have alcohol on board underage.

Enjoy the journey. East Tennessee has so many waterways to explore.

"I believe East Tennessee is blessed with a different lake in every direction: Douglas, Cherokee, Calderwood, Chilhowee, Tellico, Fort Loudoun, Watts Bar, Melton Hill. We got them all," Roberson said.

If you don't have a canoe, kayak or paddleboard of your own, there are plenty of places to rent one

"If you are nervous or scared, you should get out and try it because Knoxville has tons of great waterways and things happening right within the Knox County borders so, you know, you got tons of recreation potential for all walks of life," Terry said.


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