Understanding Rivers: Hazards and if You Capsize
A paddle trip downriver can include these river hazards.
- Low-head dams: These structures are difficult to see and can trap paddlers. Consult a map of the river before your trip, and know where dams are located. Always carry your craft around them.
- Rapids: When approaching rapids, go ashore well upstream and check them out before continuing. If you see dangerous conditions, carry your craft around them.
- Strainers: These river obstructions allow water to flow through but block vessels and could throw you overboard and damage or trap your craft. Strainers may include overhanging branches, logjams, or flooded islands. Strainers are also notorious for causing death by drowning.
Understanding River Characterictics
- Rivers are constantly changing. It's up to you to be familiar with these changes.
- In a river without obstructions, the slowest moving water is near the bottom and the fastest is near the surface.
- Eddies are created behind an obstruction as water fills in the void created by the obstruction. The current behind an eddy is actually moving upstream. Skilled paddlers use eddies as a place to stop and rest.
- Hydraulics occur as water flows over an obstruction and a slight depression forms behind it. Downstream water attempts to fill this void, creating an upstream flow toward the obstruction. A low-head dam is a perfect and deadly example of a hydraulic. Avoid hydraulics altogether.
If You Capsize
If you capsize, follow these guidelines.
- Float on the upstream side of your craft. 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.
- If the water is cold, take all necessary precautions to avoid hypothermia.