River Safety

Safety Tips for Paddlers


Water flows downhill - from mountains to oceans, and paddlers play in them all

bluedot.gif (925 bytes)……..steep mountain creeks are the domain of the expert creek kayaker
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)……..whitewater streams are home to whitewater kayak playboats and highly rockered canoes
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)……..moving water, with few significant rapids are good for general touring canoes
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)……..flat water and wide rivers are suitable for touring kayaks
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)……..big bodies of water, estuaries, bays are made for sea kayaks
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)……..oceans and surf are for sea kayak experts only

Whitewater requires quick and easy maneuvering - so the boats are generally shorter and rockered for easy turning. Wide open waters require boats that hold the course easily, so they are longer and straighter.


bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Wear a properly fitted Personal Flotation Device (PFD) - a life jacket.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Paddle water appropriate to your skills.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Learn to control your boat - be able to stop the boat at any time and know how to land on shore.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Do not go into fast current unless you are sure you can safely paddle through.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)When in a group, assign a lead and sweep boat - preferably have both be experienced paddlers: no one passes the lead boat or falls behind the sweep.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Learn to recognize river hazards: strainers (downed trees or branches reaching into the water); dams with hydraulic reversals; bridge piers; barbed wires across rivers.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Walk around any hazard about which you have doubts.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Do not paddle rivers in flood stage or after a heavy rain - currents can become very swift, even in a normally shallow river.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Know what to do when you capsize: stay upstream of the boat to avoid getting trapped between the boat and an obstacle; do not stand up in swift water (feet can get caught in rocks) but swim to shore.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Tie all your gear into the boat, but never yourself , children or pets (put wallets in waterproof bags).
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Wear proper clothing to avoid hypothermia - synthetic fabrics are best.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Stay alert to changing weather conditions.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)Don’t paddle alone - join a club - paddle with people who know the river. Let someone know where you will be and when you plan to return.
bluedot.gif (925 bytes)"Take a paddling clinic or class. For a list of places that offer INSTRUCTION - Click Here

REMEMBER: You are in control of your boat while on the water. The river is a natural environment and can have hazards, which could cause accidents and spoil your trip.

   Lowhead Dams are common throughout the Midwest and pose a significant danger to paddlers and fishermen. Always use caution and avoid running dams. The uniform structure of a lowhead dam forms a river wide and very strong recirculating current (hydraulic) just down stream of the dam. Anything caught in this current will be continually pulled under the water again and again. Once caught in the hydraulic, escape is almost impossible without help.

   Here we can see a kayak caught in a strainer. The kayak is being held against the branches of a fallen tree by the force of the current. Imagine if you were in the boat and got caught up against this strainer. The force of the current could quickly pull you under and trap you against the branches of this tree. Always avoid fallen trees and other debris. 
   In this photo we can see how strainers get their name. The current can easily flow over, around and through the branches of this fallen tree. At a higher water level this tree will form a deadly strainer. Any solid object too large to fit between the branches will be held tightly in place by the force of the current.

This is a dam simulation that was displayed at Paddling in the Park. The purpose of this ingenious display is to illustrate the dangerous currents associated with lowhead dams and strainers.

This close-up photo shows the miniature paddlers and debris caught in the  recirculating current (hydraulic) just down stream of the dam.

This photo shows a miniature paddler caught in a strainer. If you are swept into a strainer with no hope of avoiding it, swim towards the strainer using a forward crawl stroke. Try to use the forward crawl strokes to swim your way on top and over the strainer. This is much preferred to being drug under the water's surface and pinned by the river current.

More Dam Safety Information