Stay equipped. Every renter of outdoor equipment requires that renters follow laws related to sporting gear; shops may enforce additional guidelines, as well. Personal flotation devices are required on watercraft (some shops require renters to wear PFDs at all times) and bike shops make helmets easily accessible.
Know your limits. For watersports, it is especially important to be aware of physical limits, says Hal Ashman of Ultimate Watersports. "It's a good idea to have solid swimming skills before renting a watercraft," he says. "That means at least being able to swim the length of a pool and tread water for 60 seconds."
Do your homework. Ashman recommends learning about the characteristics of the water or trail you're exploring before your trip. Rental shops should be able to share key information about the location.
Dress appropriately. "Gear matters," says Ashman. "We make sure people are properly attired so they have a safe and comfortable experience." That includes making decisions about wearing a swimsuit versus a wetsuit, footwear, layering clothes in case of temperature changes, applying sunscreen and carrying a water bottle.
Ask questions. Outdoor equipment experts insist that the best instruction is personal. Talk to the rental shop about your goals and level of expertise to plan the best outing.
Stay in contact. Dave Isbell of Annapolis Canoe & Kayak says sometimes people are "having so much fun, they don't want to come back." But returning promptly is more than just courteous — it also lets the shop know you're safe. "If people aren't back by the time they expect, we're aware of it so we can be proactive," says Hal Ashman. "Always make a plan. Tell someone how long you'll be out, where you're going, where you're launching and when you'll return, so you can have an extra hand if you need it."