Believe it or not, spring is here, and soon, ice will melt away from Maine’s many waterways. It’s just about time to dust off paddles, clean creepy crawlies out of cockpits, and recall just where you crammed the life jackets last fall.

The next step is to brush up on your paddling knowledge at the 13th annual Paddle Smart Safety Symposium, Friday-Sunday, March 29-31, at the Bangor Civic Center. For the third year, Paddle Smart is teaming up with the annual Bangor Boating and Marine Show, which will run at the same time in the adjacent Bangor Auditorium.

“It’s been a very good thing,” said Brad Ryder, event organizer and owner of Epic Sports. “When we were doing it on our own, we were hitting our target market of paddlers, but the numbers were around 200 each year, and we couldn’t seem to grow it beyond that. … When we teamed up with the boat show, we went from a couple hundred [attendees] to a couple thousand.

“We think our message is getting out to a lot more people,” Ryder said.

And the main message is simple.

“It’s wear your life jacket. It’s really that simple,” he said. “And especially this time of year, when the ice is starting to go out and people are anxious to get out on the water for whatever reason — for fishing or just paddling. I hear all the time, ‘I’ve paddled a canoe for years and years. I don’t need a life jacket.’ Or, ‘I don’t need to wear it. I’ll just stick it under the seat.’ The water is so cold, and they don’t understand hypothermia until they’re in it — and trying to put a life jacket on in the water is a whole adventure by itself.”

“We really want to reach out to people and send a paddle message to prepare for the worst and enjoy the rest,” said Karen Francoeur, Paddle Smart organizer and owner of Castine Kayak Adventures.

While the three-day event focuses on paddling safety, Paddle Smart is a mixture of information and entertainment through vendor booths and presentations, which range in topics from birding to capsize recovery to a narrated pictorial trip along the Allagash River.

One lucky show attendee will go home with a new 12-foot Necky kayak, donated by Old Town Canoe. Raffle tickets are on sale at Epic Sports in Bangor and will be on sale during the three days of the show. The winning name will be drawn at the end of the show, but the winner’s presence is not required.

New this year is a series of 45-minute presentations in breakout rooms with door prizes being awarded during each session.

Scott Phillips of the Penobscot Indian Nation will kick off the series at 5 p.m. Friday with a one-hour discussion on the changes on the Penobscot River that are expected to enhance opportunities for paddlers now that the Great Works dam has been removed (2012), and the effect the removal of the Veazie Dam (planned for 2013-14) will have on the watershed and its restoration.

“I see huge recreational opportunities for paddlers once we have a free-flowing river again,” Phillips said in a recent news release. “This is an exciting time to get involved to help promote and enjoy clean, fun river recreation.”

“We’re hoping that the paddling people who are interested in the dams will come out — some of the salmon fishermen and some whitewater paddlers,” said Francoeur. “It’s really an opportunity for people to share their ideas about the dams coming out, what they know about the river and what they want to see on the river.”

The presentations will continue on Saturday evening with:

• “Canoeing the Allagash,” 4 p.m.: Join Master Maine Guide Bob Myron of Outdoor Leader Trainers of America for a slideshow and discussion on how to plan for a safe and enjoyable paddling trip on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Myron has been canoeing this section of Maine for more than 30 years.

• “Maine’s Mysterious Marsh Birds,” 4 p.m.: Danielle D’Auria of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will explain why Maine is home to secretive marsh birds, such as rails, bitterns, herons and snipe. Learn what makes these birds special, why they still remain a mystery to most scientists, and how to increase your chance of hearing and possibly seeing one the next time your feet or paddle get wet.

• “What to Consider When Sharing Your Passion for Paddlesports,” 5 p.m.: Join Bob Myron to learn some tips on what to be aware of when you are becoming a mentor of paddle sports.

• “Paddling Strokes Workshop,” 5 p.m.: Mark Savage and the Brewer Outdoor Club will demonstrate efficient paddle stroke techniques in this hands-on dry-land presentation.

• “What to do if and When Your Kayak Capsizes,” 6 p.m.: Join Karen Francoeur, Master Maine Sea Kayak Guide, ACA IV open water instructor and owner of Castine Kayak Adventures, for a video presentation and talk about what to do if your boat or a friend’s boat capsizes. Learn what you could do to minimize risks and what equipment could turn a complicated rescue into a simple and efficient one.

• “First Aid for Paddlers,” 6 p.m.: Join Jon Tierney, owner of Alpenglow and Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School, for some first-aid basics. Tierney is a wilderness first responder and wilderness emergency medical technician instructor for Wilderness Medical Associates.

• “Paddling the Yukon,” 6 p.m.: Master Maine Guide Dan Pelletier of Maine Guiding will narrate a slideshow of a a solo canoe trip taken in 1992 down the Yukon River.

“We’ve really tried to step it up several notches and offer some new information for the novice, for the intermediate paddler and for the advanced paddlers,” Ryder said.

Bookmarks available at Epic Sports will get you into the boat show for free from 4 to 7 p.m. only on Saturday. Admission to the show is $5 for adults and children under 12 are admitted free. Show hours are 2-8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.

Videos and slideshows will run throughout the show, and paddling organizations and experts will be on hand to answer people’s questions about a variety of paddling and outdoor safety topics.

A selection of paddling accessories, such as rescue kits, as well as discounted and used kayaks and canoes, will be for sale throughout the event. A wide variety of life jackets will also be for sale at discounted prices.

New to the exhibitor list is Acadia Standup Paddleboarding. Christopher Strout, an ACA Level II standup paddleboard instructor, will share information about this emerging sport, from its history to equipment and safety.

Return exhibitors include Maine DEP Invasive Species Program, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, MaineGuiding, Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organizations, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, Brewer Outdoor Education program, Maine Island Trail Association, and the Maine Association of Sea Kayak Guides and Instructors.

Other businesses and organizations that will provide information to attendees are Penobscot River Restoration, Castine Kayak Adventures, Epic Sports, Fields Pond Nature Center, Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society, and Penobscot Riverkeepers.

On Sunday, families can enjoy an egg hunt throughout the vendor tables.

For information about Paddle Smart, call Epic Sports at 941-5670 or Castine Kayak Adventures at 866-3506, or visit For information about the Bangor Boating and Marine Show, visit

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...