The American Canoe Association has released Critical Judgment, Understanding and Preventing Canoe and Kayak Fatalities, a report examining canoe- and kayak-related fatalities over the five-year period from 1996 to 2000.

For everyone concerned with paddlesport safety, the report provides vital information to better understand the risks of paddling, the nature of canoe- and kayak-related accidents, and the population most at risk of being involved in a fatal canoe- or kayak-related accident.

Critical Judgment identifies priority problem areas that offer the greatest opportunity to significantly reduce canoe and kayak fatalities. The report’s findings include:

  • 75 percent of the paddling-related fatalities involved canoeing and 25 percent involved kayaking.
  • 83 percent of the victims who died while canoeing were not wearing a life jacket at the time of the accident.
  • Occupant movement/weight shift plays a major role in approximately half of all canoeing accidents.
  • Approximately 50 percent of the victims in canoe- and kayak-related fatalities were fishing at the time of the accident.
  • At least 25 percent of the victims in fatal canoeing accidents are believed to have consumed alcohol immediately prior to the accident.

In addition to these and other key findings, Critical Judgment outlines the American Canoe Association’s strategy to reduce canoe and kayak fatalities, and includes important policy recommendations that will improve safety for all paddlers. See back page for an explanation of American Camping Association standards for canoeing and kayaking.

These policy recommendations include increased training of state and federal marine patrol officers in paddling technique and safety, expanded education efforts that encourage all paddlers to wear life jackets, improved signage at low-head dams, stronger laws regarding alcohol consumption while boating, a greater portion of Wallop-Breaux Trust Fund dollars allocated to boating safety programs, and the revision of accident report forms to capture better information about canoe and kayak accidents.

The complete report is available on the American Canoe Association’s Web site ( To request a printed copy, please contact Cheri Nylen, American Canoe Association’s program coordinator for safety education and instruction ( or 703-451-0141, ext. 19).

The 123-year-old American Canoe Association is the nation’s largest and oldest nonprofit paddlesport organization and serves to promote and protect all types of canoeing, kayaking, and rafting as life-time, family recreation. The American Canoe Association is the nation’s leader in teaching paddlesport safety, preserving access to quality waterways, and supporting grassroots programs and events. The Association has over 50,000 members across American and abroad.

Originally published in the 2004 Winter issue of The CampLine.