Every year, we hear about people who are injured or killed while they are out paddling on canoe trips. This is a shame, since wilderness canoeing is not in of itself a dangerous activity. Most accidents and fatalities we hear about are not due to dangerous conditions or equipment failure, but to human error, ignorance and bad judgment.

What can happen? We can drown in a rapid, or get hit by lightning. We can get swamped by huge rolling waves on a large lake, or a tree can get blown down and land on our tent at night. These things may make canoeing sound quite dangerous, but we have to take a step back and look at what really caused the accident.

Let's look at the first example - a paddler who drowns in a dangerous rapid. The fact that a rapid is big, swift and dangerous doesn't really mean a lot - we have to ask ourselves why did the person drown in that rapid? No matter how violent a rapid is, a group of paddlers won't drown on the portage trail around it. Why didn't that person use the portage? Now we're possibly looking at a probably question of judgment instead of one of danger. What if the person drowned because the group didn't know that the rapid was around that corner? That probably means that the group had old maps, no maps, didn't know how to read the maps or hadn't researched the route very well. What if the group planned to take the portage, but the take-out for that portage was very close to the rapid and the canoe was swept into the fast water? Again, the issue becomes one where we have to ask ourselves was the fatality due to the rapid, or due to the fact that the paddlers didn't have the necessary expertise to paddle that particular route.

The same applies to our other examples. Did someone get hit by lightning because they were too impatient to take an hour off during an electrical storm? Did a group make a poor decision by heading out into a large lake with large waves? Did a tree fall on a tent because the group didn't take the time to see if there were any snags or dead trees leaning over the tent site?

As in any situation - we have to practice avoidance. Rather than have to deal with a tricky or dangerous situation, we have to learn to make decisions which will prevent us from being in that dangerous situation in the first place.