Boating Basics Online - Basic Boating Safety Course
Chapter 9 - Other Water Activities

Paddle Sports and Small Boats

Paddling on a river.Paddle Sports are becoming more and more popular year after year. Whether canoeing, kayaking or rafting, a day on the water enjoying the thrill of the sport or leisurely enjoying the nature around you can be very satisfying.

Participants in Paddle Sports need to be especially vigilant in observing their surroundings, especially when operating around powerboats. A wake from a powerboat can easily swamp the Paddle driven boat and leave the Paddler in the water.

Power boaters should also be aware when operating around paddlers, other small boat operators and swimmers. They need to remember that they are legally responsible for their wake and any damage that it may cause.

There are certain Do's and Don'ts that should be observed to make your Paddling adventure a safe one.




Like boating in general, preparation prior to getting underway is a necessity and could save your life.

Special Dangers:

Paddling presents some special dangers that every participant in the sport should be aware of. These include; entrapments, broaches, strainers and low-head dams.

The most obvious threat to life on the water is drowning. Wearing a USCG approved and properly fitted life jacket can prevent this in calm water but in swift or turbulent water even a life jacket may not keep your head above water at all times.

Entrapments - usually happen when a person's foot gets wedged in a crevice or under a rock. The force of swift water may prevent you from being able to free yourself.

When you find yourself in swift water, float on your back with your feet up and pointing downstream. This position will enable you to fend off rocks while making your way to the shore. It also diminishes the chance of being entrapped. If your paddle craft remains afloat, hold onto the upstream side as you make your way to shore.

Broaches - A broach may occur when your paddle craft gets pushed sideways by the current and gets pinned against a rock.

Preventing a broach starts with avoiding obstacles in the water. You probably won't be able to miss them all even if you are an experienced paddler. Since being broached is being pushed into a rock by the current, do your best to avoid this situation.

Strainers - Strainers are a common hazard in rivers and streams and may be from a group of rocks, fallen trees or other debris. As the name implies, they have no effect on the flow of water but "strain" out people and paddle craft. Keep an eye ahead and do your best to avoid any strainers that you see.

Low Head Dams - Low Head Dams are serious risks that may be encountered when paddling. Sometimes referred to as "Drowning Machines," they are dangerous both above and below the dam.

From downstream, you may not realize the danger until it's too late. From upstream, low-head dams are difficult to detect. In most instances, a low-head dam does not look dangerous, yet can create a life-threatening situation. You should always pay attention to warning signs, markers or buoys and keep well clear of low-head dams.

An obvious danger is encountered when a boat is carried downstream over a dam, yet the most serious danger occurs immediately below the dam, where hydraulic effects can submerge a person or a craft and keep it submerged within a few feet of the dam. Also, the person can become entangled in underwater debris, and not be able to free him or herself.

Dams do not need to have a deep drop to create a dangerous backwash. During periods of high water and heavy rains, the backwash current problems get worse, and the reach of the backwash current is extended downstream.

Small low-head dams that may have provided a refreshing wading spot at low water can become a brutal death trap when river levels are up. Simply put, it is not the drop of the dam that is the lethal danger, but the backwash current. This backwash current is governed by volume of water and flow.

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