Photo: Simon Grada
Before leaving on a canoe trip, we recommend that you inform a relative or friend of your scheduled return date. If you are delayed, this person must contact us so that we can ask the Sûreté du Québec to begin a search procedure.
• Plan your trip carefully.
• Be thoroughly familiar with basic canoeing techniques and know
the international signals.
• Know and respect your limits as a canoeist.
• Bring a first-aid kit and a repair kit with you.
• Bring the safety equipment required according to Transport Canada regulation.
• Wear a personal flotation device (PFD).
• Know how to prevent and recognize hypothermia.
• In stormy weather, adopt safety measures to protect against lightning.
• Never approach a wild animal
• Never cook in your tent and do not keep food, toothpaste or chewing gum
in your tent.
• Store your food and waste away from your tent, in a place that is inaccessible to bears, raccoons and small rodents. We recommend the following: Hang your food and waste in a tree at a height of 16 feet (5 m) and 6.5 feet (2 m) away from the trunk, or store it in airtight, clean barrels. Your dog’s food requires the same care and attention as your own.
• The quality of water in La Vérendrye Wildlife Reserve is considered exceptional. However, for your safety we recommend that you get your water at least 30 meters from the bank, to boil it for at least 1 minute or to filter it. It’s important to know that water which seems good for consumption could contain certain micro-organisms that can cause gastro-intestinal problems. Giardia is one such parasite to be avoided in your drinking water. This is found in the stools of humans, beavers, muskrats and dogs.
Potential danger ahead. This signal means that you must stop. You should then walk along the shore to the lead canoe and inspect the rapids. The first people to see the signal must reproduce it for those behind. Hold your paddle horizontally above your head and then raise and lower it. If you are outside your canoe, raise and lower both arms simultaneously. Wait for the next signal before continuing on your way.
Provide assistance as soon as possible.
Remember that even though you must reach the site of the emergency as quickly as possible, you should keep calm and not endanger the lives of the rescuers. If you have a whistle, blow three long blasts to signal others. As a visual signal, raise your arm over your head and wave it from side to side. For a clearer signal, use a highly visible object such as a personal flotation device or throw bag. If you are in your canoe, raise your oar vertically and wave it from side to side.
This signal can also mean “permission requested” if it is given by someone about to proceed into a certain section of the route (in other words, “is it safe to go on?”). At that time, the leader must raise his/her arm or paddle vertically and hold it still. This will clearly signify “all clear” or “permission granted”.
Did you know that you have a much greater chance of being bitten by a dog, hit by a car, or struck by lightning than being attacked by a bear? Attacks on humans are rare and only a small percentage result in serious injury. In Québec, only five fatalities due to black bears have been reported in the last 25 years. Normally the bear is afraid of humans. When it detects people by sound or scent, it disappears into the forest. black bears will sometimes stand up on their hind legs. Generally, they do this to better identify an odor or source of noise.
• Never feed bears or any other animals
• Never approach a bear, especially young cubs!
• Put your food and waste out of their reach
• Minimize food and waste smells
• Do not pitch your tent near a path, a forest road or in an area where berries abound.
• Do not stay on a campsite where there are food wastes or fish remains.
• Put your tent close to a tree which you could climb. Orient the tent entrance toward that tree and sleep with your head turned toward the opening.
• Keep your camp clean.
• Do not store food in your tent.
• Hang the food, garbage or any other odorous items in a tree, 3 meters high and
2 meters from the trunk. You can also place them in clean, sealed barrels, away
• Do not cook or eat in your tent.
• Separate your cooking area from your rest area.
• Wash your dishes after every meal and dispose of greasy water far from camp. Wash all cans to remove odours.
• Pick up your food and garbage. Make your presence known by speaking. Bang objects together. Try to scare the bear by throwing objects.
• If it's still daylight, pack your tent and find another campsite. If it is night, keep watch and leave the next day.
• Report any bear displaying aggressive behaviour to park rangers.
It is NOT recommended to play dead with a black bear. Rather, stay attentive and be ready to face it in the event it attacks.
• Stay calm and assess the situation.
• Don't shout or make sudden movements. Talk to it in a soft voice.
• Always leave the bear an escape path. Never trap it in a corner. Leave it enough space to turn around and run away.
• Don't run away unless you are within close reach of a safe place. By running, you may encourage the bear to follow you and see you as its prey. Remember, bears are excellent runners and swimmers.
• Avoid looking it directly in the eyes as it can perceive this as threatening.
• Back up slowly, keeping it in your sight all the while.
• If it advances, toss objects in front of you to distract it.
• Climbing a tree can be a solution as most adult bears will not spontaneously climb, except to find food in the fall.
• If it attacks, defend yourself with whatever is close at hand (rocks, sticks, branches,
an axe, etc.). Raise your voice, shout, and gesticulate. The goal is to impress it into retreating.
Learn more on the subject at the Ressources naturelles et faune Quebec ministry website.
Source: "Staying safe around black bears", a publication of Ressources naturelles et faune Quebec ministry.
To preserve the quality of water, it is important that you use the dry toilets. If there are none, find an area with absorbent ground located at least 100 FEET from the water. Dig a hole, then cover it after use. We recommend that groups dig one hole for everyone to use. Furthermore, you should never wash yourself, brush your teeth or wash your dishes directly in the water. Remain at least 100 FEET from any body of water, dig a hole and use biodegradable soap.
“When practicing outdoor activities, it is essential to boil water for at least one minute before drinking it, or before using it to cook food or brush one's teeth. This procedure kills the Giardia and Cryptosporidium as well as all other dangerous micro-organisms liable to be present. Some types of water filters can eliminate these parasites.”
To learn more about Giardia, read the report "Water Talk: Giardia and Cryptosporidium in Drinking Water" on Health Canada website.
Lightning is the most spectacular form of electricity. A negatively charged bolt of electricity shoots from the base of a cloud and strikes a positively charged object, usually another cloud. Lightning only strikes the ground one third of the time.
You can estimate how far away lightning is by the interval between the flash and the clap of thunder that follows. Three seconds roughly equals 1 km. It’s best to take shelter whenever the interval is less than 5 seconds. You are then about 1.5 km from the storm.
While lightning is a natural and inevitable phenomenon, it can be anticipated. By following these suggestions, you can protect yourself from lightning strikes.
If possible, take shelter.
On no account should you take shelter under a tree, especially if it is isolated or not among other trees. It’s a statistical fact that an isolated tree is 50 times more likely to be struck by lightning than a standing person. Never shelter beside a wall, especially if it is wet, since this can conduct electricity. For the same reason, do not seek refuge in a hole in the ground or in the back of a cave. Standing near the entrance of a cave exposes you to the risk of electricity arcing between the cave ceiling and your head. Always stay crouched down, as far away as possible from the ceiling, walls and back of the cave.
Lightning always touches down at the highest point. If it strikes a body of water, any vessel would be a likely point of impact. The best thing to do is head for the shore. If you are engaged in any activity that brings you into contact with water, remember that a wet human body, as well as the water itself, are good conductors of electricity, which could mean a dangerously strong current running through you.
Anyone struck by lightning has received an electric shock, although their body is not electrically charged, so they can still be safely moved. The victim may have suffered burns or shock, therefore medical help should be sought as quickly as possible. If the person is not breathing, give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. If the person is not breathing and no pulse is present, you should give cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
• If a storm is approaching, take shelter, even if it’s not yet raining.
• If you are on or in a body of water (swimming or boating), get back to shore and stay away from the water’s edge.
• If you get caught in a storm and cannot take shelter, the best position to take is crouching on tip-toes with your hands covering your ears, having spread out on the ground an oilskin or similar insulating material such as plastic.
• Avoid spreading your body on the ground, or standing with legs apart, or walking with large strides. Make yourself small!
• Keep well away from isolated trees or other tall objects. Avoid open areas. Try to stick to wooded areas or stay where the trees are shorter.
• If you are in a group, disperse and stay at least three meters apart.
• Never shelter under an open umbrella.
Sources : Sécretariat au loisir et au sport, Québec, web site.
Fédération québécoise du canot and du kayak, web site.
Hypothermia can occur when a person’s body temperature falls below normal levels. While this condition can be easily prevented, failure to react quickly could possibly be fatal.
When doing outdoor activities, it is important to understand the nature of hypothermia in order to prevent it. Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures (10 degrees Celsius!), combined with wetness and wind, can produce early symptoms of hypothermia. Anyone immersed in a lake at a temperature of 15 degrees Celsius for more than 15 minutes can be affected. Even a long day of walking in the rain could be dangerous for the more vulnerable members of a group.
The first signs are shivering and a marked loss of energy. If no action is taken at this stage, the next symptoms can be loss of coordination, difficulty in speaking and even confusion. Evacuation is then necessary, as the person’s body temperature will continue to drop, which could lead to death. A person affected with serious hypothermia can only be saved by clinical treatment.
If you suspect that you or a member of your team is in danger of hypothermia, take action immediately. Find shelter from the elements, change into dry clothes, take some easy-to-digest, energy-rich food or drink, and rest. If there is no improvement, EVACUATE!
Before embarking on a stay outdoors, make sure you go through the following
check-list: adequate physique preparation; good, energy-rich food; change of dry clothes (in Quebec, always have a tuque in your bag); and a plan for each day allowing sufficient rest for all members of the group. These precautions will help you avoid the risk of hypothermia.
Mosquitoes are worst during the month of June. It’s difficult to eliminate this nuisance, but it can be minimized. Here are some recommendations:
When you move a lot or act nervously, your body releases more carbonic gas and you perspire more, which stimulates biting insects.
Wear loose clothes, preferably light coloured, avoid jeans; tuck pants into socks; cover the head; protect your neck. People who are particularly sensitive to insect bites might consider wearing canvas gloves and a cap with a mosquito net attached.
The most effective on the market is diethyl-toluamide (DEET). This works by blocking the receptors that enable insects to detect the chemical presence of its prey. However, you need to carefully follow the manufacturer’s directions since this product can irritate some people’s skin and damage certain synthetic materials, including plastic (glasses frames, watch straps, penknife sheaths, etc.). A product containing 30% DEET is sufficient.
Some natural oils (citronella, soya) are more appropriate for young children and individuals who are sensitive to DEET. The secret is to apply small amounts of repellent but frequently. Some net clothing can be impregnated with DEET. This type of protection is, in our view, very effective and less injurious for your skin than direct application.
Keep moving, making several trips to portage all your equipment in stages. Once on the water, paddle away from the shore quickly to escape the mosquitoes, then rest.
Close the insect screen of your tent before erecting it. Don’t light any lamps inside the tent before you’ve tightly closed the screen.
The most effective remedies are calamine lotion and a paste of bicarbonate soda
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