Paddling Perils: Hazards and Safety Tips for River and Stream Enthusiasts
Paddling on a river or stream can be an exciting and peaceful way to explore nature, but it’s important to be aware of the potential hazards that come with it. From floods and swift water to low head dams, strainers, hypothermia, and foot entrapments, there are many risks involved that paddlers need to understand to stay safe.
In this article, we’ll explore the most common hazards that paddlers face and provide tips for avoiding them. Whether you’re planning a trip to the Canadian Shield, French River Provincial Park, or Hartley Bay Marina, these tips can help keep you safe on the water.
Floods and Swiftwater
High water causes hazards such as low head dams to become even more dangerous, and unseen obstacles like floating logs and submerged trees can threaten paddlers. Before you go paddling, check water conditions and avoid streams with water spilling out of the banks. Swiftwater can be dangerous, and it’s important to avoid areas with swift currents, especially if you’re inexperienced.
Low Head Dams and Waterfalls
Dams are often found on rivers, and while they may appear safe to cross, they can be extremely dangerous. Avoid boating over dams, especially small dams, which can create dangerous turbulence or hydraulic at the base. Scout waterfalls and carry boats around hazards, launching downstream from all dams.
Fallen trees, overhanging branches and limbs, log jams, and flooded islands can strain boats and people, making them difficult to navigate in swift water. Avoid strainers, especially in high and fast water, by scouting rivers in advance and planning trips to avoid hazards. If you do encounter a strainer, avoid it if possible or carefully manoeuvre around it.
Lowering of the body's core temperature can be caused by exposure to cold water, chilly winds, wet weather, or perspiration. Wear wetsuits, drysuits, or other protective clothing to be prepared for cold air and water. Be aware of the symptoms of hypothermia, such as shivering, fatigue, confusion, and loss of coordination. It’s treatment can include removing wet clothes, moving to a warm and dry place, and drinking warm liquids.
When a boat capsizes, avoid standing or walking in swift-moving water to prevent foot entrapments, which can hold paddlers under the water. Instead, float on your back with your feet up and head downstream, and swim to calm water before standing. Avoid standing in fast-moving water, and always be aware of the risks and potential hazards.
Follow these tips to stay safe while paddling:
- Wear life jackets at all times.
- Check the weather and river conditions before paddling, and respect the conditions.
- File a float plan and send it to friends who will be alerted if a check-in time goes unmet.
- Use phone apps to round up conditions, routes, paddling courses, and emergency information.
- Pay close attention to how fast the water is moving, how high the water is, and your level of experience in the situation.
- Land before dark, especially in cold weather.
- Have the proper equipment and protective gear, and wear it at all times.
Another important safety tip is to file a float plan. Let someone know where you're going, when you plan to arrive, and when you expect to be back. This way, if you don't return on time, someone will know to look for you and can alert the authorities if necessary.
In addition to traditional safety measures, technology can be a useful tool for paddlers. There are a number of phone apps available that provide information on river conditions, weather, routes, paddling courses, and emergency information. These apps can be a great resource for paddlers, especially those who are new to an area.
When you're on the water, it's important to pay close attention to your surroundings and your own abilities. Be aware of how fast the water is moving, how high the water is, and your level of experience in the situation. If you're not sure if you can handle a particular section of a river or stream, it's better to err on the side of caution and find an alternate route.
It's also important to know what to do in the event of an emergency. If you or someone in your group capsizes, avoid standing or walking in swift-moving water to prevent foot entrapments, which can hold paddlers under the water. Instead, float on your back with your feet up and head downstream, and swim to calm water before standing. If someone in your group is injured or in distress, it's important to stay calm and assess the situation. If necessary, call for help or make your way to the nearest exit point.
Paddling on a river or stream can be an incredible experience, but it’s important to be prepared and aware of the potential hazards. By following the tips outlined in this article, you can stay safe while enjoying the beauty of nature. Remember to always wear a life jacket, check the weather and river conditions before you set out. If you're paddling in unfamiliar waters, be sure to scout the route ahead of time and make a plan for avoiding hazards like strainers, low head dams, and waterfalls.
Image by Scott Heywood