Kayaking is a way of life. It’s part of who we are and what we do. As river kayakers, it takes skill and knowledge to navigate the rapids, rocks, bends and hydraulics that all have the potential to change in an instant. To help you get started on this amazing journey into whitewater excellence, here are some tips for safe river kayaking:
14 River Kayaking Tips for Beginners
Know Your Route
Always be aware of the type of water you are kayaking. If you do not know the river, ask someone who does or check a map. Rivers with rapids and currents can become very hard to navigate if you do not know what you are getting into beforehand. There is nothing worse than being a half an hour into your trip only to find out that going back is going to be nearly impossible because there is no where calm enough for you to turn around without flipping your kayak over in rough waters.
Use Life Vests Properly
It should go without saying but it must be written somewhere just how important wearing life vests while kayaking can really be. I have seen people get washed away by rapids and drown because they did not take the time to properly put on their life vests. I have even seen people who were near death by hypothermia because they refused to put on their life vest. Always wear your life vest and make sure it fits correctly before taking off down a river!
Always Wear a Helmet
You need a helmet while kayaking, Period! Kayaking can be dangerous enough without having rocks and tree branches hitting us in the head as we bounce around on rapids. Make sure that you always wear your helmet while kayaking!
Stay Awake Or Drowsy?
It may seem tempting to try and sleep while out on the river. Put your phone away and try not to fall asleep as it can be dangerous in a kayak, especially if you are tired or drunk! We have all seen what happens when people fall asleep while driving so do not think that the same does not apply to kayaking because it does.
Know How to Read the Water
Kayaking is as much about understanding the water you are on and what it can do as it is about actually being in a kayak. It will give you a great deal of respect for nature if you learn how to read the waves that are forming around you and pay attention to where they are going so that you can react accordingly by trying to avoid them or just getting out of their way.
Take Your Time
If your goal in kayaking is just to get from one place to another without all the fun stuff, then feel free to take shortcuts and go straight through little known lakes and rivers. However, if your ultimate goal in life is to enjoy yourself with every breath that you take, then I suggest taking your time instead of trying to rush from one destination to another.
It is easy to get tunnel-vision while kayaking because we are usually focused on the next turn or rapids that lie ahead of us as well as the little fish swimming beneath our kayaks and other water creatures. However, even if you do not plan on fishing while you are out, I suggest looking up every once in a while so that you can see the views around you and take it all in. It also makes it easier for you to spot branches, rocks and other hard things that lie above and just waiting to hit your head!
Be Careful Around Rapids
Rapids can be fun but they can also be dangerous. If you have never been whitewater rafting and cannot swim, I suggest staying away from any rapids that are over class II on the scale used to grade water level difficulties. It is always better to be safe than sorry because there is no room for error when it comes to kayaking!
Know When To Get Out
Sometimes you will find yourself in a situation where things just do not feel right or seem like they are about to go wrong. If you have ever seen this happen before, then you know what I am talking about when I say that sometimes getting out of your kayak can be one of the safest things that you could possibly do. This especially applies if your kayak tips over while you are in rough waters or if it flips while traveling down a dangerous set of rapids. If you are in doubt about whether or not to get out, then maybe it is best if you do!
Be Prepared For Emergencies
No matter how much planning and thought you put into kayaking before your trip, the unexpected can still happen and there will always be times when things go wrong and you need a back-up plan. I suggest keeping some items on hand that would make first aid supplies as well as some tools. In addition to these wade boots may seem like overkill but they could help prevent injury after a flip or even just from the cold water. Things break all the time while we are out paddling so prepare yourself for anything by having extra oars! While it is okay to be an optimist and let yourself have fun while you are out kayaking, there must always be room for the possibility of things going wrong.
Keep Your Cool
We all get angry at times and we can never avoid it completely. However, if you plan on staying safe while you are kayaking then do not lose control because at that moment you could become a danger to everyone else that is around including yourself! If you want to yell, scream or just vent your frustrations by hitting your paddle against the water then do it in a way that will not cause injury or make other kayakers nervous.
Check Dam Release Times
Every single time that you go kayaking, be sure to check the dam release times. You do not want to get caught in a dangerous situation because you did not read this tip before you headed out! Some dams raise their levels at night or late morning and they will lower them shortly after lunch time. Of course there are exceptions to these rules so make sure to look up each dam individually on the internet (just like you would look up any other important piece of information before your trip).
Check the Weather
While sometimes the weather can be a bit unpredictable, it is almost always best to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Prepare yourself by bringing extra water on your trip if there are early warnings that a storm could hit. Even if you know that you will have an easy trip lined-up because of the conditions in advance, make sure to carry extra food just in case!
Scout Before You Kayak
Never go out and try a new section of water without doing some research first. This is especially true if you are going to be traveling on a river that has rapids or any other features in it. In addition to checking the dam release times, I suggest looking up information on the rapids themselves as well as how fast they move. If your kayak gets caught in one then this will help you determine which way to turn (if possible) and how hard you may need to paddle just so you do not end up getting stuck underneath part of the rapid!
Arthur G. Moore is a veteran paddler. He has over 10 years of whitewater kayaking experience in his kitty. When he was young, he used to love kayaking in rapid III and rapid IV but as time went on, he decided to concentrate mainly on covering long distances on a standard touring kayak. He is currently working as a senior editor for Kayak Manual.