The U.S. Coast Guard is asking boaters (including kayakers) to take the time to label their boats, paddles, life jackets, etc. with their names and contact information in order to avoid initiating expensive and time-consuming search and rescue efforts when there isn’t actually a person missing.
When someone finds a kayak or other piece of paddling gear floating around in the water without a paddler nearby, it is likely that a search may be started on the assumption that a paddler has capsized and lost contact with his/her kayak. In reality, it may just be that the boat or gear was not adequately secured on shore and drifted or blew away while the owner is blissfully unaware and safe on shore. If the gear is labeled with a name and contact information, attempts can be made to contact the owner perhaps preventing an unnecessary search. On the other hand, if you do in fact need help, knowing your name and contact information may help the Coast Guard reach friends and family who may be able to help narrow the search area if you have left a float plan with someone. This would hopefully shorten the time until needed help arrives.
You can label your gear using a permanent marker. If you need to label a black neoprene sprayskirt or carbon paddle, you can use a paint pen in a lighter color. These can be found at craft stores and many hardware stores. (Make sure the paint in the pen is not water soluble.) You can contact your local Coast Guard Auxiliary to see about getting one of the special Paddle Smart Identification Stickers to place on your kayak. I received a couple of stickers from Sea Kayaker magazine along with a DVD I ordered from them a few months ago. If you start asking around, I suspect you may find some other paddle sport-related businesses and organizations that may have some to give out. There’s probably a good chance that you’ll see some in the booths at Canoecopia in Madison, Wisconsin this March.
Whatever method you use to label your gear, now is the time to take care of this task. We have a long winter here in Wisconsin. There should be plenty of time to get this done before spring.