Someone needs to know your day-to-day trip itinerary in case you go missing. Paddle plans (or float plans) include your intended route, likely camping areas, your expected return time, pick-up time and place, possible reasons for getting held up, and alternative routes, camps, and pick-up spots.
The most effective place to file a paddle plan is with someone who cares – which is friends and family. If you don’t contact them by the agreed upon time they can then relay the information from the paddle plan to the Coast Guard or other searchers. Filing a float plan with your harbormaster is a good back-up. When you return from the trip, simply call your designated contact and/or the Coast Guard to have them cancel your plan.
In situations where rescue is needed, searchers backtrack your intended route (finish to start) and use information from the paddle plan. So, if a charter drops you off at point A and they plan to pick you up at point B, they'll be able to narrow down some of the possibilities. From your paddle plan, rescuers will know specifically what you’re going to do if you cannot make point B. You’re either going to be at A, or a discussed place between A and B that you can make.
Nasty weather is the primary factor in delaying kayakers and stressing out family and friends. Unzip your tent and look out. If you won’t canoe in the water, don’t paddle in it. People try to paddle home in terrible conditions because they’re looking at their watches. Consider building in a day or two or three for weather because ultimately it’s the large waves, poor visibility, and wet conditions accompanying bad weather that often lead to hypothermia and the need for rescue.
If you are in need of assistance, make yourself as visible as possible. Bright colors are always great indicators as are campfires and positioning your kayak and gear where it can get spotted from out on the water. Paddle plans include gear information such as the color of your kayaks, tents, and sleeping bags so rescuers have one more way of identifying a party in need. You are expected to list the amount of food & fuel you’ve brought, your emergency communication cabability, medical conditions, and other information that might help the search.
Water-taxi charters will ask for a paddle plan if they are scheduled to pick you up somewhere. A typical rental orientation may take forty minutes to an hour depending upon the breadth of your paddle plan and the experience of the people going. Renters will also encourage you to file the paddle plan with friends, family, and/or the harbormaster.