This column was first published March 29, 2008

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but now the time’s close and I’ve got to fill you in on some of the finer points for the eighth annual Paddle Smart Safety Symposium on April 12.

First off it’s free, as usual. What’s really new is that there are going to be offerings for canoeists and Kenduskeag Stream racers. This year it’s going to be held on Saturday evening in the hope of attracting some folks who couldn’t make our typical Friday evening galas of the past.

And the fun will be at the Y on Second Street this year, not the Y on Hammond Street as in the past (because the pool there was closed, and how can you have a canoe and kayak symposium without water?).

Again there’ll be a sea kayak given away to a lucky ticket holder. This year’s raffle prize is a blue Necky Elaho, donated by Old Town Canoe, a division of Johnson Outdoor Products. The 16-foot, 4-inch kayak is 221/2 inches wide and retails for more than $1,400. It is a low-profile touring kayak with a multi-chine hull and rocker that combine to make it very playful and maneuverable.

The bow and stern hatches feature flush covers, effectively eliminating kick-up from spray across the deck and providing a clean, integrated look to the boat. There’s also a day hatch behind the seat. Raffle tickets for the boat will be on sale that evening as well as at Epic Sports in Bangor. There’s no other place in town where you’ll be able to get such a deal on a boat for only $3. To ensure your odds, secure a few tickets. The money Paddle Smart brings in will go toward putting on next year’s event.

The symposium runs from 5 to 9:30 p.m. This year there is a three-workshop/symposium track for paddlers interested in racing (or simply participating in) the Kenduskeag Stream race – which falls exactly a week after this year’s symposium. It will provide novice and experienced canoe racers and want-to-be racers, as well as those who just want to have fun, a boatload of good advice.

Another session will feature demonstrations of how to rescue yourself and others in the event of you capsize. This will be conducted by Maine Guide Dan Pelletier and Kyle Duckworth, with the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society.

And for those who just want to venture out on Maine waters safely, there will be a good dose of advice and safety material available, from paddling the coast to building your own kayak to selecting the right boat and having a capsize plan that works for you. In the pool area you will have a chance to learn what makes each kayak right for the abilities of the paddler and conditions under which it will be used.

Displays in the gymnasium will include those by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the Marine Patrol, Epic Sports, Castine Kayak Adventures, Maine Island Trail Association, Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Club, Penobscot Riverkeepers, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, Penobscot River Restoration Trust, the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors and others.

The timing for this year’s symposium is ideal for canoeists – Old Town Canoe is holding its annual yard sale that weekend and the Kenduskeag race is the next weekend. If you attend the symposium, you’ll have a chance to talk with veteran racer Jeff Owen about training for the race, outfitting that new canoe or learning some strategies for improving your race standings. There’ll even be a session reserved for questions and tall stories.

For those of us who prefer a more leisurely tour on the water, there will be a workshop on Leave No Trace Techniques for Paddlers presented by Dave Mention, trail director, Maine Island Trail Association.

“Even though kayaking is inherently a low-impact activity for the environment,” Mention says, “there are some things you can do to ensure that your kayaking and camping trip is even more low impact.”

If you’ve had a hankering to build your own boat, I suggest you take in Shawn Waite’s talk on building a stitch and glue kayak. Waite, of Charleston, will take you step-by-step through the process with a PowerPoint presentation to show you what you could do with a little time and a few tools.

For those of you who have paddled your fair share on fresh water and are ready to look toward the ocean for your next step in paddling adventures (and for those who can put up with me), I’ll talk you through that transition. Topics open for discussion range from cold water safety to tides, launch-ramp etiquette and essential equipment to make your trip a safe one. Feel free to ask questions. I’ll try to make up an answer, and if I can’t, I’ll direct you to someone who has one.

Paddle Smart coordinators for this year’s event are: Karen Francoeur, Castine Kayak Adventures; Brad Ryder, owner, Epic Sports; Mark Goff, Maine Guide, logistics; Anne Powelson, treasurer; Al Johnson, safety specialist, U.S. Coast Guard, First District; Ed Iverson, U.S. Coast Guard, Southwest Harbor, and yours truly.

Got any questions? Drop me a line or contact Francoeur, Castine Kayak Adventures, Orono, 866-3506 or Ryder, Epic Sports, 941-5670.

Jeff Strout’s column is published on Saturdays