Boating Basics


Paddlers (those who boat in small crafts, such as canoes, kayaks, and rafts) should follow the same safe practices as any other small vessel operator.

When paddling, you should:

  • Know how to paddle or swim in strong currents and be an experienced swimmer.
  • Wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times.
  • Never paddle alone. Paddle with someone familiar with the waterway.
  • Never overload the craft. Tie down gear and distribute weight evenly. Don't move around in the craft as that can make it unstable.
  • Check your craft for leaks.
  • Map a general route and timetable when embarking on a long trip. Arrange for your vehicles to be shuttled to the takeout point.

If paddling on a lake, watch the weather and stay close to shore. Head for shore if the waves increase.

  • When approaching rapids or low-head dams, go ashore well upstream and check them out before continuing. Be aware of any dangers ahead. Steer clear of drop-offs and dams. Carry your craft around low-head dams.
  • Stay away from strainers. Strainers are river obstructions that allow water to flow through but block vessels and could throw you overboard and damage or trap your craft. Strainers may include overhanging branches, log-jams, or flooded islands. Strainers are also notorious for causing death by drowning.

If you capsize:

  • Float on the upstream side of the vessel.
  • You can be crushed on the downstream side if you run into an obstruction.
  • Do not attempt to stand or walk in swift-moving water. The current could pull you under if your foot becomes trapped between submerged rocks.
  • Float on your back with your feet and arms extended. Float with your feet pointed downstream to act as a buffer against rocks. Don't fight the current. Use the current to backstroke your way to shore.
Paddlers should follow the same safe practices as any other small vessel operator.