The leading cause of deaths recorded by the United States Coast Guard in 2009 was drowning. Of the 543 deaths by drowning, more than 70 percent of those people were not wearing a life jacket.
The paddle experts and volunteers who organize Bangor’s annual Paddle Smart Safety Symposium aim to lower the number of boating fatalities through education about paddling gear, preparation and technique.
This year, the 11th annual Paddle Smart Safety Symposium will be held at the Bangor Boating and Marine Show at the Bangor Auditorium & Civic Center, which will be held Saturday and Sunday.
“We were invited to be a part of the Bangor boat show and we thought it would allow us to reach more people,” said Paddle Smart coordinator Karen Francoeur of Castine Kayak Adventures.
Paddle Smart, a series of lectures and workshops about canoe and kayak safety, was first planned in conjunction with the Bangor YMCA and was held at YMCA buildings for several years. Because of changes in YMCA management and budget, Paddle Smart moved to Husson College a couple of years ago.
“Last year, we got our usual 200 people, and we worked our tails off and said, ‘You know, this really isn’t growing. What could we do to get a little bit more exposure?’” said Paddle Smart coordinator Brad Ryder, owner of Epic Sports in Bangor.
This year, the symposium was organized by Castine Kayak Adventures, Epic Sports, the United States Coast Guard, the National Safe Boating Council, the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors and the Bangor Boat Show.
They plan to set up 12 exhibitors, including the Maine Island Trail Association, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society and Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization.
This will be the first time Paddle Smart will be held at a venue without a pool for demonstrations.
“We wish the boat show had a pool, but all they had was a little trout pond — although jokes have been made about me rolling in the trout pond and catching fish in my mouth —I won’t be willing to do that,” Francoeur said.
A series of lectures enhanced by photos and videos will be held in a breakout room across the hall from the main floor of the Civic Center where the paddling section of the show is set up.
“Everyone is looking outside and the ice is opening and everyone is excited about paddling, but we want to really inform people about what boat is safe in what water, the importance of life jackets and the importance of paddling instruction,” Francoeur said. “Our measure of success is: If we’ve saved one life, we’ve been successful.”
“Nationwide, for all recreational boating, we recorded 736 fatalities total, and of those, 86 percent of those people who died in those types of accidents have never taken any boating or paddling education course,” said Walter Taylor, United States Coast Guard Boating Safety Specialist. “Take a boating safety course, you’ll learn a lot about the sport, and everybody will get something out of it.”
A selection of paddling gear will be on sale in their section of the show. In addition to bilge pumps and life jackets, Ryder will bring a selection of boats — everything from an open-cockpit, strictly recreational kayak to a 43-pound, Kevlar, tandem racing canoe.
As in the past, Paddle Smart exhibitors will give out a variety of door prizes. And for the first time, people can enter a free drawing for a Thule vehicle rack if they ace a paddling safety quiz.
Purchase a $1 ticket at the symposium or ahead of time at Epic Sports to enter a drawing to win a yellow Necky Manitou 14-foot sea kayak with a skeg, full deck rigging, double bulkhead and bow and stern hatches, donated by Old Town Canoe. The winner will be drawn at the end of the show. All money received from ticket purchases will go toward funding next year’s Paddle Smart.
“It’s a great space [at the boat show],” said Ryder. “We’re hopeful that instead of 200 people, we’ll see 2,000.”
The Bangor Boating and Marine show is open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5; children under 12 get in for free. For information, visit castinekayak.com or www.basspark.com.