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Boating Basics

Safety While Paddling


Always wear a life jacket. Also wear a helmet when paddling on rapid waters.

Don’t overload the craft with passengers or gear.

Stay seated. Standing up or moving around in a small craft can cause it to capsize.

Fasten down all ropes so that there is no danger of becoming entangled in case you overturn.

If you capsize, stay at the upstream end of the craft. If carried by the current, float on your back with your feet pointed downstream, keeping your toes up and your feet together. Never try to stand up unless the water is too shallow to swim.

Be alert to changing weather conditions. Get out of the water before a storm hits.

Before paddling on a river, make sure you understand the special challenges you may encounter.

  • Consult a map of the river before your trip, and know where any low-head dams are located. Water going over a low-head dam creates a strong recirculating current at the base of the dam, which can trap you against the face of the dam under the water. Always carry your craft around a low-head dam.
  • When approaching rapids, go ashore well upstream and check them out before continuing. In dangerous conditions, carry your craft around rapids.
  • Be alert for strainers, which are river obstructions that allow water to flow through but block vessels and could throw you overboard and damage or trap your craft.

Stand-Up Paddleboards (SUPs)


The use of SUPs on lakes and rivers is growing in popularity. The U.S. Coast Guard classifies SUPs as vessels.

Paddleboarders must comply with recreational boating laws and rules.

Paddleboards must have:

  • A life jacket for each person on board
  • A sound-producing device such as a whistle when used on federally controlled waters
  • Navigation lights when used between sunset and sunrise—this may be a flashlight or a headlamp with a white light
  • VDSs when used on federally controlled waters