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Canoeing Safety

Even if you're just enjoying the river from the bank, fishing or wading, rivers can be dangerous. Be within arm's reach of children if they are playing on the bank or wading, because there are dropoffs and swift currents.

Canoeing and Kayaking

River levels can change drastically depending on rainfall, making passage and maneuverability more difficult.

As with all water activities, always wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved personal flotation device.

Before you start:

  • Be honest with yourself when evaluating your skills (and skills of others in your party). You will have a safer and more enjoyable trip if you choose sections of the river that match your ability.
  • Check on current water levels before embarking on your trip. The difficulty level of certain sections of river can change dramatically with changes in water level. Gentle stretches can become dangerous with high water levels. At extremely low levels, you may find yourself paddling through puddles, dragging the canoe over rocks, or portaging.
  • Know your physical ability, swimming skills and paddling skills. If you are uncertain about how much you can do, start with a short trip.
  • Take time to find out which lands along the river belong to private landowners. The Forest Service has USGS quadrangle maps that have national forest boundaries marked on them.

On the River

  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket at all times. Even gentle stretches of water can have wicked undercurrents. Even good swimmers need to wear one.
  • Never boat alone. A preferred minimum is three boats.
  • Scout rapids and make rescue plans if needed. Be aware that on some sections of these rivers, land access may be difficult and help is far away.
  • Learn basic water rescue techniques and first aid. Learn to recognize the symptoms and treatment for hypothermia.
  • Know your limits; do not attempt a section of river beyond your skill level.
  • Pay attention to weather and water conditions. Wear wool clothing or a wet suit and dress for the water temperature. If the water temperature and air temperature combined total 100 degrees or less, wear protective clothing.
  • If you capsize, hold on to your craft and get immediately to the upstream side. Float on your back, feet together and pointed downstream. If you go over a ledge or drop, tuck into a ball. Release your craft only if it improves your safety. Stay upstream away from the boat.
  • Carry the proper equipment including dry clothing and a first-aid kit. Store all extra gear in a secure watertight container.

Canoe Safety Tips

Before you go canoeing this summer, there are some important things you should know to keep yourself safe. Canoeing is a lot of fun, but if you don’t know the dangers, you could get into trouble on the water. Here are some tips for keeping dry and steering clear of danger:

  • To get into your canoe:

HAVE SOMEONE HOLD THE CANOE STEADY – you don’t want to tip the canoe before you even get out on the water!

CROUCH LOW - keep your knees bent and GRAB THE SIDES OF THE CANOE FOR BALANCE as you walk to your seat

ALWAYS WALK ALONG THE CENTER – keeping your feet on the centerline will help keep the canoe from rocking.

  • Stay low – do not stand up or walk in your canoe when you are away from shore.
  • Always wear your life jacket - you never know when you might fall out or tip over unexpectedly.
  • Avoid sudden or jerky movements - rocking from side to side could cause the canoe to tip over.
  • Be aware of the currents of the river - you don’t want to end up floating farther downstream than you planned. If the current starts to pull you along faster or you see lots of rocks in the water ahead of you paddle away from them or paddle towards the shore.
  • Always sit on the seats or in the center of the canoe - sitting on the side of a canoe will cause it to tip over.
  • Stay away from low hanging trees and branches near the shore.
  • Do not canoe in bad weather.
  • Avoid letting big waves hit the side of your canoe - always try to keep your canoe at a right angle to the waves otherwise the wave might push your canoe over.

If your canoe tips over:

  • Don't panic.
  • Stay with your canoe.
  • Paddle or push your canoe to shore – with the help of the other person in your canoe, you can get out in shallow water and flip the canoe to dump out the water and climb in. Your canoe will float even if its full of water until you can get to shore to empty it.
  • Always bring along extra clothing in a waterproof container - you want to be prepared in case your canoe tips or the weather changes.


  • SUN PROTECTION – hats, sunscreen, long sleeves and pants
  • MAP – be sure you know where you are so you do not get lost!

TIE ALL YOUR EQUIPMENT TO THE CANOE – put your equipment into a waterproof bag to keep it dry and tie it to one of the center beams in the canoe so that you don’t lose everything if your canoe tips over.

DO NOT LITTER – carry out everything you bring in – the animals don’t like a messy home.