Be Your Own Judge When Asessing Risk
Sometimes individuals in a group find it difficult to speak up about risks or hazards, but it is important to do so. Perhaps the leader didn't notice the hazard or others have a greater risk tolerance than you do. Everyone should be able to talk freely about this, and canoeists should always faciliitate creating an open atmosphere about risk and hazards.
Transport Your Canoe Securely
Most roof racks aren't nearly as strong as we hope they are. Strong winds or collisions can turn your canoe into a 16' torpedo. Use strong ropes or webbing straps tied close to the hull on both racks. As a backup in case of roof rack failure, have a strong rope going from each end of the canoe down to a solid part of the vehicle.
BC's Cold Water is Your #1 Hazard
Doesn't matter if it's a lake, river or ocean, the cold water is often the biggest threat to your safety. Preparing for it should be your number one safety consideration. BC waterways are most commonly colder than 10degC, which makes them a serious hypothermia threat.
Floods Regularly Change BC Rivers
There are many areas of BC that receive heavy precipitation. Rivers in BC can change dramatically during flood events. Trees fall in and create sweepers or shoreline hazards, log jams accumulate, new channels appear, banks colapse and deposit debris, rapids are created, change or disappear entirely. Always be thinking of what's around the next corner and how you can get to safety.
Practice Capsize and Rescue
Practicing capsizing is really fun and it is definitely the best way to learn how to deal with real life capsizes. Wear immersion gear (wetsuit or drysuit) or do it in warm water and weather. Take a course and you'll learn a lot of tips on what to do when you capsize, and how to empty the canoe and get yourself or others back in. If you practice it, capsize can be treated as a routine part of canoeing, and often the most fun and exhilerating part, even on the river!
Wear Appropriate Clothing
BC water is typically cold to very cold. Wetsuits should be worn for open water crossings or rivers, even if the air temperature is quite warm. A drysuit (not the neoprene diving type) is a great investment for paddling in BC and can be used on the ocean, rivers and more exposed lake trips. They are very versatile because you can change the amount of insulation you wear under the drysuit, making them useful for all four seasons.
Pack Your Gear Low and Centered
Pack your camping gear low and in the center of the canoe! Ideally you don't want to have gear above the gunwale lines in case you need to do a canoe over canoe rescue. Put the weight near the center, but you can also adjust the weight (or the paddlers) to make the canoe bow or stern heavy to take advantage of the wind direction and steering the canoe. Definitely do not put heavy gear on one side of the centerline and light gear on the other!