When venturing on a river, consider the following: 

  • Never boat alone,
  • Be sure your water skills are equal to the river and conditions, 
  • Wear a properly fitted Personal Flotation Device,
  • Carry required equipment, 
  • Study the map of the river, consider all entry/exit points, 
  • Prepare for extremes in weather – know how to avoid, identify and treat hypothermia, 
  • Use appropriate footwear, clothing, and safety equipment, 
  • Never run a rapid unless it has been scouted first, 
  • Watch out for new snags and sweepers after spring floods, 
  • Allow the craft ahead of you to pass through the rapid before you enter, 
  • When in doubt, stop and scout. If you are still in doubt…portage!

Common River Hazards 

  • High Water – A river’s speed and power increases tremendously as the flow increases.
  • Foot Entrapment – This is when you catch a foot in rocks on the bottom of the river when trying to stand in running water. This will happen when you capsize in white water and you attempt to stand – never stand in fast-moving water.  Lay on your back, point your feet downstream and run the current. If you can swim to shore – do so in safety.
  • Strainers/Sweepers – Trees or branches in the current – they can cause dumping or pinning.  This is extremely dangerous, particularly when the river is high and water is flowing rapidly. If pinned, it will likely be impossible to free yourself, resulting in drowning and death. The best way to handle a sweeper is prevention. Always scout river bends and stay clear of shorelines.
  • Man-Made Entrapments – Bridge pilings, dams, or any man-made object in the river.
  • Broaches – When a boat is pushed sideways against a rock by a current, it may get pinned, collapse or wrap around the object. The boat could be impossible to remove. With water flowing against the hull of the boat at up to 700 kilograms/square metre, rescue becomes very very dangerous and difficult.  Z drag lines and throw bags are essential tools for rescue and recovery when paddling in white water. 
  • Undercuts – When water flows passed a rock or ledge and is forced to flow under the surface.  An object or boater trapped in an undercut could remain underwater and unable to surface – even when wearing a PFD.  Paddlers who have been trapped and survived an undercuts, often choose to wear “high floatation” PFDs. These improved PFDs are bulkier, however greatly improve floatation.
  • Entanglements – When a boater gets tangled on loose lines during boat exit. Campologist always wear a readily accessible river knife when traveling in white water.  
  • Hydraulics – When water drops over an obstacle, it curls back on itself forming a strong upstream current which is capable of folding a boat or causing serious injury or death, 
  • Self Rescue – Don’t wait for others to save you.  In shallow rapids, lie on your back, feet downstream and above water. If the rapids are deeper, roll over onto your stomach and swim aggressively at a 45-degree angle for shore. Aggressive swimming may be necessary if dangerous obstacles are expected downstream.
  • Assisted Rescue – For a shoreline, use throw bags or ropes. From a Boat, have the swimmer grab onto another boat’s stern loop and tow to safety. Open water rescue is an essential skill – take a course!


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