To an extent, all Norwegians have salt water in their veins, and learn at an early age how to behave in boats and along the shore. Sometimes we forget that the same is not always the case for our visitors, who might need some tips in order to stay safe - not to mention dry.
Wearing a lifejacket is mandatory in Norway, on board all boats of less than eight metres in length, with a few exceptions. Nobody forces you to wear a lifejacket if you are competing in water sports or renting a boat on a small lake - but it’s still a good idea to wear one, more often than not.
Do not drink at sea - alcohol and boating do not mix well.
Whatever you do, keep safety uppermost in your thoughts, no matter what fun you’re up to. Make sure you do not overload your boat. In small boats, do not stand up unless you have to, and keep your centre of gravity low at all times. When you step into a small boat, try to place your foot as close to the centre line as possible.
In case of bad weather and large waves, try breaching them bow first, instead of receiving them broadside. This will help the boat cut through the waves and stay balanced. Avoid wearing rubber boots, as these will fill with water and make swimming difficult if you fall overboard.
If you or somebody else falls overboard, it is important to get out as soon as possible. Even in summer hypothermia can set in faster than you might think, so get them out of wet clothes and into something dry as fast as possible. Throw a flotation device to him as soon as possible, but do not jump in yourself. If the flotation device has a rope attached, or a flashing beacon, then so much the better.
When helping somebody into your boat, be careful to not tip your vessel - especially if you’re in a small rowboat or canoe. As the victim exits the water, they will lose buoyancy and seem suddenly heavier, which will make your boat tip suddenly towards the rescuee. In small vessels it might be better to lift them on board in the bow or stern, which is harder to force under.
If your boat is overturned but still floating, don’t try to swim to safety, but stay nearby and await rescue. If you can, climb onto the boat, but be careful it doesn’t get unstable.
The wet and the cold is not only a dangerous problem at sea. You can just as easily fall in from the shore, whether you're by the coast, along a lake or by a river.
Much of Norway is quite steep and wet, a combination which makes for some great rafting - but don’t go rafting on your own. A guide should always accompany you, as they have the equipment and the know-how to assess the safety at any given time.
If you’re wading in a river, assess the force of the current carefully. The water has a lot of momentum and may sweep your legs from under you before you know it. A wading staff might help you keep your balance.
If you lose your footing in a river and are swept downstream, try to maintain a sitting position in the water, with your legs stretched out in the direction you are going, to protect yourself from hitting rocks and boulders. Keep your feet high in the water so that they don’t snag rocks and debris on the bottom, which can drag you under if the current is strong enough. You can control your direction and angle by “swimming” with your arms.
Keep these rules of thumb in mind whenever you are on or by the water:
If you were born on 1 January 1980 or later, you must have at least a Yachtmaster Certificate of Competence ("båtførerprøven") in order to pilot a boat over 8 metres in length, or with more than 25 horsepower, in Norwegian waters. While not mandatory for those born earlier than this date, it is strongly recommended that they do the same.
A similar or higher certification from an EEA/EU country will also be acceptable.
By all means, enjoy Norway to the fullest, but be careful while you do so. After all, we'd like you to come back and see us again, and enjoy the rest of what we have to offer.
There is much to enjoy among the peaks, valleys and plateaus, but the beauty and serenity can quickly turn dangerous. Make sure your training, your knowledge of the area, and your equipment, are all equally well suited for the trip.