Basic Safety Procedures

  • Every paddler must have a PFD in the canoe. Wear the PFD if you feel it necessary. Children under 13 MUST wear a PFD at all times.
  • Every OC6 must have two bailers secured in the canoe.
  • Every OC6 must have a drybag safety kit secured in the canoe with a VHF radio.
  • The steersperson is ultimately responsible for evaluating the conditions and setting an appropriate course.
    Crew members may express concerns if they’re uncomfortable with the conditions, which the steersperson will take under advisement.
  • Be capable of treading water and swimming in case of a huli (capsize).
  • Always be dressed for immersion in cold water (see below).
  • Understand your seat’s responsibilities in the event of a huli (see below).
  • Secure all loose objects in strapped-in mesh bags or dry bags.
  • Bring water and a snack when going on a long paddle (especially anything over 90 minutes).
  • Be aware of, and be prepared for, existing conditions. These include: wind speed and direction, swell size and direction, tide changes, air temperature, and water temperature.
  • Be aware of your approximate location

Check conditions here:

National Weather Service Marine Zone Santa Cruz

NOAA Monterey bay

NOAA Tides Santa Cruz

Surfline Santa Cruz Harbor

Any of our VHF radios – press the WX button

Check buoy locations here:

Buoy map

Avoid Hypothermia

Some Facts About Hypothermia

If you’re immersed in water that’s 50 degrees F. (which is typical in Monterey Bay in winter), you’re likely to die within one-and-a-half hours (usually from heart failure). Exhaustion and unconsciousness will occur within 30-to-60 minutes, making it harder to keep yourself from being immersed longer. You can get hypothermic without even getting wet. Winter temperatures of 45 degrees F., with 20-mph winds, are not uncommon on the Monterey Bay in the winter, and these conditions can lead to hypothermia.

Preventing Hypothermia


  • Don’t capsize! Paddle very safely in cold conditions. Don’t paddle in conditions above your crew’s ability level.
  • Wear no cotton! Wen wet, it stops being an insulator, and instead becomes a heat conductor.
  • Layer with fleece, neoprene, nylon, and other synthetics. Wool is fine, but synthetics are lighter, warmer, and retain less water. Even if you wear a wetsuit, carry a water-and-windproof outer layer. Once you right your canoe, your wetsuit will stay wet and cause evaporative cooling. An outer layer will help prevent evaporative cooling.
  • Wear a wool or similar synthetic hat. Once you’re clothed properly, 80-90% of your heat loss will be through your head.
  • Wear neoprene booties, especially in an OC1 or OC2.

Symptoms of Hypothermia

  • Mild hypothermia: Uncontrolled, intense shivering. Movements becomes less coordinated. Some pain and discomfort.
  • Moderate hypothermia: Shivering slows or stops. Muscles begin to stiffen. Metal confusion and apathy sets in. Speech becomes slow, vague, and slurred. Breathing becomes slower and shallow.
  • Severe hypothermia: Skin is cold, may be bluish-gray. Eyes may be dilated. Very weak. Marked lack of coordination. Slurred speech. Exhaustion. Denies problem and may resist help. Gradual loss of consciousness. May become very rigid, unconscious, and appear dead.

Huli Recovery Procedure

Here is an excellent video from our fellow club Ke Kai OʻUhane of Monterey.


  • Seat 6 calls out each seat number in order 1 through 5. Each paddler responds with “OK”.
  • Everyone quickly puts their paddles under their seats (between the seats and the bottom of the capsized canoe)
  • Everyone stays on the ama side of the canoe (instead of swimming under the canoe to the non-ama side)
  • Seats 1 from bow and seat 6 from stern orient the canoe facing into the swell.
  • Seats 3 & 4 step onto the upside down iako, climb onto the hull, turn and step on the stubs of the iako, grab the ama side iako and right the canoe when seat six says “ready, LIFT”.
  • Seats 2 & 5 can help lift the ama as 3 & 4 right it if necessary.
  • Seats 3 & 4 slow the ama as it drops into the water.
  • Seats 3 & 4 then use the iakos of the righted canoe to pull themselves partly out of the water and to weight the left side of the canoe for seats 2 & 5 to get in.
  • Seats 2 & 5 jump into the canoe from the right side of the canoe and bail like crazy towards the ama side.
  • When seat six says “3 and 4 IN” seats 3 & 4 jump in and assist bailing with 2 & 5.
  • When seat six says “everyone IN” seats 1 & 6 jump in from ama side.
  • While 3 & 4 finish bailing, the rest paddle to keep the canoe from swamping.

Notes on Huli Recovery

Often times it happens before you know it and you find yourself in the water. The cold water can stun and disorient you. Surface with your arm above your head to avoid hitting it on the ama. Keep calm and remember your training!

Stay with your canoe: right it and get back in, or stay on top of your over-turned canoe until you can be rescued. If you are unable to right the canoe or it is damaged beyond use Use The Radio and call for help on channel 16. Don’t delay, the hypothermia clock has begun. Put on the PFDs.

Bail quickly with fast short bails, also use the 5 gallon bucket.

Know the rules inside the harbor

Outrigger Canoes:

1) Due to the low freeboard / visibility of these vessels, they must stay to the farthest right and maintain a proper lookout:
– Surf breaking at the harbor entrance can impede ability and threaten the safety of staying to the right. If a boater in this class of craft chooses to cross over to the opposing side of the channel to exit or enter, they are advised to use extreme caution when crossing the channel and must yield to oncoming vessels.
2) Either as an individual boater, or in a group, this class of craft must not congregate in the harbor entrance or other areas of the channel or fairways that might impede normal transiting vessel traffic.

See here for more information.

Lights Requirement

Requirements for Unpowered Vessels Less Than 65.6 Feet (OC6)

Unpowered vessels are sailing vessels or those that are paddled, poled, or rowed.

If less than 65.6 feet long, these vessels must exhibit the lights as shown in the figure below. The required lights are:

  • Red and green sidelights visible from a distance of at least two miles away—or if less than 39.4 feet long, at least one mile away—on a dark, clear night.
  • A sternlight visible from a distance of at least two miles away.

When you practice or operate between sundown and sunrise you must have the red/green and the white sternlight.

Requirements for OC1/2

All the law requires is that they have a light or torch (flashlight) that can be deployed for signaling if they are approaching another vessel or another vessel is approaching them. However, because of the nature of paddling inside the harbor our harbor master suggests an all-around white light  that is constantly in the “on” position. Or even 2 headlamps (forward/rear facing) would be ok.

The problem with flashlights is that they typically get put in the boat for compliance but are not used when they should be. In order for them to be used in a legal manner they have to be on and facing other vessels while underway. This is hard when it’s a one person vessel and they are concentrating on paddling (with two hands) instead of watching for boats coming out of the fairways to signal. This is why we strongly suggest the bright all-around white light or dual headlamps

OC-1 and OC-2

In order to take out the clubs OC-1 or OC-2 canoe you must take an orientation class and get a certification level.


Outrigger Santa Cruz actively trains new and progressing steerers. In the interest of safety, everybody on a canoe should be able to steer in an emergency. In many conditions, paddlers in seats 1, 2, and 5 assist the steerer in seat 6, so club-wide skill in steering a canoe is essential. As conditions permit, Outrigger Santa Cruz coaches encourage members to practice steering in the various seats in a canoe. steering

However, because of the responsibility for life and property inherent in the role of steerer, no one without formal certification can steer an Outrigger Santa Cruz six-person canoe, except under the direct supervision of a coach or other certified steerer.

To certify steerers, Outrigger Santa Cruz follows the process described below.

The first level of certification is to steer in the Santa Cruz small boat harbor. Without the supervision of any other certified steerers, a steerer at this level can steer a crew from the back of the harbor to just inside the harbor mouth. At this level of certification, a steerer can NOT take a crew outside of the harbor mouth without the direct supervision of a second-level certified steerer, either onboard the same canoe or in an accompanying canoe.

The second level of certification is to steer beyond the mouth of the Santa Cruz small boat harbor. At this level, a steerer is expected to show sound judgement about how far from the harbor to paddle, taking into consideration the conditions of sea and weather and the skill level of the crew.

There are occasions when the conditions are so benign that a newly certified steerer can quite safely take a beginning crew as far as Natural Bridges Beach or Capitola. However, there are occasions when conditions are so extreme that an expert steerer should not take even an expert crew out of the harbor. Because there are so many factors and variables involved, Outrigger Santa Cruz does not have levels of certification beyound these two. Instead, the Outrigger Santa Cruz steering certification committee approves steerers when the committee members are confident not only in the steering skills of an individual, but also in that person’s judgement about when and where it is safe to paddle.

Club members interested in becoming certified steerers should express their interest to their coaches. At their discretion, coaches will train novice steerers when sea, weather, crew, and workout conditions are appropriate. As novice steerers’ skills improve, coaches train them under increasingly challenging conditions. Our steering certification committee members regularly consult together about the progress of novice steerers. When the committee decides that a steerer has earned the responsibility to steer crews without supervision, our head coach announces the certification of that individual at the earliest possible monthly Outrigger Santa Cruz club meeting.

Our steering certification committee uses multiple criteria for evaluating the skill of steerers, including the ability to:

  • Steer straight
  • Turn and maneuver around obstacles
  • Navigate under challenges ranging from clear and calm to dark, foggy, and stormy
  • Read and respond to swell, wind, currents, and waves
  • Provide effective leadership
  • Communicate and command clearly
  • Right a capsized canoe quickly and safely
  • Show good judgement on safety and crew mates’ comfort

Many of these factors do not lend themselves to easy, objective measurement. As with steering itself, certifying other steerers requires good judgement. Because of the responsibility involved with steering, our coaches take a very conservative approach to certifying steerers. However, through practice and perseverance, a dedicated novice steerer is likely to gain eventual certification at one or both of these levels.

Take a look at our Steersperson Study Guide.