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Paddle Sports

Safety & Rescue Procedures:

Paddling is fun, especially when it is safe. Like any outdoor activity, if you follow a few common sense rules, learn the basics of having a safe time, and are prepared physically and mentally, you’ll be able to handle the variety of experiences that paddling and the great outdoors will throw at you.

Wearing a properly fitting life jacket just makes good sense. Gone are the days of bulky life jackets. Today’s jackets are made to fit without impeding the typical movements of a paddler. They come in a variety of styles for both men and women. Many come with gussets, breathing vents and additional pockets for maximum comfort and utility. Check out the latest Type III and Type V PFD’s below.

If you are wearing your PFD, you will always know where it is. Wearing a PFD makes self rescue and assisting others easier. Basic self rescue involves righting your craft, emptying it of water, and reentering. This is easiest done when close to shore. Self rescue in deep water involves more advanced skills.

If paddling alone, which we never recommend, ask yourself if you could swim the rapids (if in white water) or, can you swim ashore while towing your boat (if near coastal). This is important if you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to get assistance or self rescue.

Go paddling in groups! It is more fun and definitely safer. Always position your strongest paddlers at the front (lead) and one at the back (sweep). Use river signals if you are not within ear shot to notify others of potential hazards. Do not take risks and avoid unnecessary hazards.

Safe Paddling Practices

  • Always wear a properly fitting PFD (lifejacket) while afloat
  • Do not stand up in a canoe or kayak – keep your weight low
  • Be able to handle your boat – know how to propel, steer and stop
  • Dress appropriate for weather conditions – pack spare dry clothes
  • Carry a supply of water and food adequate for your trip length
  • Never overload the boat with more weight than it was designed
  • Never boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Avoid weather and water conditions beyond your skill level
  • Never approach a low-head dam, fallen tree or other obstruction
  • Do not paddle alone and always inform others of your trip
  • Learn about your route in advance, especially potential hazards
  • Learn how to self rescue and the skills necessary to assist others

Hazards to Avoid:

Fast Moving Water and High Water - Moving water has literally tons of pressure behind it. Water levels and conditions can change rapidly, especially downstream of a dam. Getting trapped in moving water or pinned to an obstruction can be deadly.

Low-Head Dams and Waterfalls – From upstream, dams look innocent enough, but don’t underestimate the power of its suction or current.

Low-head dams are especially deceiving, and in fact can be virtually invisible until you are too close to reroute.

Below dams and waterfalls, undertows and back currents (called hydraulics) can pull a paddler and his craft underwater, and sometimes pin them below the water’s surface indefinitely.

Low Head Dams are one of the most dangerous features encountered by river paddlers.
Image courtesy of the Hydro Users Group

Water Obstructions and Strainers – Avoid overhanging branches or downed trees, especially in moving water. These obstacles permit water to pass through while retaining solid objects. In moving water, these obstructions can trap boats or paddlers who have fallen overboard.

Limited Visibility – Don’t count on your eyes to spot dangers at night. And in fog, don’t expect other craft to see you, especially larger fast moving boats. When approaching a blind bend in fast moving water, get out and check it out. When in doubt, scout!

Cold Water – Be especially prepared for cold water. When the air temperature and water temperature add up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit or less, wear a wet suit or a dry suit. Always carry a spare change of dry clothes in a watertight bag when boating in cold water. Falls overboard in cold water (or even exposure to cold air for a period of time) can lead to a deadly consequence called hypothermia. The most typical symptoms of hypothermia in general order of onset that you must assess and treat:

  • Shivering
  • Impaired judgment
  • Clumsiness
  • Loss of dexterity
  • Slurred speech
  • Inward behavior
  • Shivering stops
  • Muscle rigidity
  • Unconsciousness
  • Deat



To locate important safety information regarding weather, stream flow and local hazards such as low-head dams, overhead wires and submerged objects, paddlers should consult with their local waterways authority prior to departure by clicking here:


Proper Gear & Protection:

Many of the annual paddling fatalities and serious injuries in the U.S. involve paddlers who are ill equipped for the conditions. Standard equipment for every participant is a properly fitting life jacket (Personal Flotation Device or PFD). Some states have made this law for persons under a certain age. 

The most important and basic rule of paddling is: Wear a life jacket!

Proper clothing, including adequate foot wear, should be worn while paddling. Proper clothing will help regulate body temperature, protect you from exposure to the elements, and add an extra layer to help prevent blisters, abrasion and sunburn. As an outdoor enthusiast, you may own much of this equipment, so don’t be scared off by the huge laundry list.