River paddling is one of America’s greatest pastimes. It is a great way to get outdoors, get some exercise, see the sights, and have some fun. But, whether you are splashing your way along the mighty Colorado River or floating down the peaceful Shenandoah, there are a few things to remember that will make your trip safe and fun.
And, if you have been sitting upright and facing the right way for most of your life than some of the listed items below are going to seem obvious. This is not an exhaustive list but more of a place to start planning.
- Canoe or kayak – many river outfitters offer their own boat rentals, life jackets, and paddles, but, if you ask, they may also load up your own personal gear as well for their river paddling adventures.
- Life jackets, paddles – again, if you have your own, you may as well use it.
- Transportation to & from the river – whether you are planning on meeting a friend down the river or using services, transportation is important.
- Parking – There is little worse after planning a day on the river than coming back to a ticket on your windshield, so make sure there is public parking in close proximity to your drop off and pick up points.
- River map – In this digital age it may seem like an antiquated idea, but maps can be extremely useful in lieu of dropping cell signals or if you happen to lose your group.
- Waterproof container – If you are using a river outfitter, it is often easier to leave everything in the car but the spare key, but if you insist on bringing your cell phone be sure to store it in a watertight container or bag. To see what happens to electronics lost in the river, see this video.
- Change of clothes – It is always a good idea to bring extra clothes in case you get wet.
- River Shoes, Sandles, Etc. – You can take your chances with other footwear, but sneakers and boots that get waterlogged can take weeks to dry out.
- Bug Spray, Sunscreen, Etc. – These are essential in any sort of outdoor kit.
- Water – It may seem redundant, but not all water is potable. Be sure to bring some that you can actually drink.
Water Hazards 101
In addition to planning what you want to take along, you should also familiarize yourself with some common water hazards that you are likely to encounter along your trip.
Whether you are in a canoe or a sea kayak or a canoe, you should be a least vaguely aware of how to “read” the water. Dams, stumps, weirs, spillways, erosion, and obstacles can all cause flowing waters to act in unpredictable ways, not to mention creating blocked waterways, unexpected rapids, snags, and obstructions.
Naturally flowing water, in and of itself, is unpredictable at best, and smooth-flowing water can suddenly swirl and gurgle in unexpected ways that can spin a boat around in ways the fast enough to surprise even the most seasoned kayaker.
So what is there to do guard against such hazards? Well, according to one website, identifying hazards before you are on top of them is one of the most effective ways to deal with river perils, and they offer a list of terms and instances to be aware of below:
- CURRENT – When you are on any body of water, particularly a river, be aware of the ever-present flow of the water. Generally speaking, without obstacles or blockages, the current of a river is slower on the inside of a bend than the outside, but it is always good to note the width, depth, and speed of the river wherever you are on the water.
- RAPIDS – Rapids are created when water flows over an obstruction, causing turbulence. Rapids should never be considered a constant, as they are affected by the flow of water and the position of the obstruction. Rivers tend to run faster in the spring, and many dammed river schedule-controlled releases of water creating class I and II rapids periodically during the year.
- HYDRAULICS – This occurs when water spins on top of itself, like at the bottom of a dam.
- EDDIES – Water rushing around rocks and obstacles creates the circulation of a reverse current.
- OTHER HAZARDS – environment variables like high wind, lightning, and bad weather can cause imminent danger to all boating activities. It is critical to stay aware of these variable hazards during any river paddling adventure.
What is a River, Anyway?
We all know what a river is, don’t we? Rivers, brooks, streams, creeks, rivulet, rills, and tributaries are all terms for flowing water. Moreover, if you are in England, a creek is a “beck,” while in Scotland it may be a “burn.” And, in the U.S., a brook may also be referred to as a “run,” but they are all part of what scientists call the Hydrologic cycle. And, if you were even somewhat lucid in science class, that term should sound at least a little familiar.
Based on the premise that all water starts with the sea and seeks to return to the sea, water evaporates off the ocean’s surface during the day and forms storms and clouds. As the clouds move through the jet flow, variables like air pressure, altitude, and temperature influence whether clouds retain and build water (pressure) or release it. When the water is eventually released, it is collected in holes and craters in the earth, and, through the processes of gravity and inertia, the water breaks free and eventually erodes its way, downhill, back to sea level.
Further, the main waterways, where more water collects and flows, are called rivers, while streams and creeks represent smaller offshoots from the main waterway. This is a simple explanation, to be sure, but we think we have the basic gist of it right.
River Paddling Wrap-up
So, whether you are bouncing around the whitewater of the Mississippi River’s Rock River Rapids or floating along a peaceful stream, remember to respect nature by planning ahead. Rivers an tributaries over a unique look at wildlife and plants that you will not find elsewhere in nature.
Look out for hazards, pack accordingly, plan for transportation, and have fun on your next river paddling adventure.