Paddling Safety

Before going on your next paddling trip, check the water levels to make sure conditions are safe.  Low water levels may expose hazards in the water, and high water levels may make it difficult to maintain control.

Use only public lands and access points.  Respect private property, and never trespass to gain access.  Also, be sure to give anglers plenty of space when paddling by.

The American Canoe Association has a Smart Start brochure that covers paddling safety basics.  You can download this brochure here.

For boating in general, please review the Handbook of Iowa Boating Laws and Responsibilities.

The Iowa DNR’s How to Paddle webpage lists ten paddling safety tips:

  1. Wear a properly-fitted lifejacket while on the water. Never paddle under the influence of alcohol or prescribed drugs.

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  2. Paddle with a group, not by yourself. Leave a “float plan” for your trip with a friend or relative.

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  3. Dress appropriately for weather and water conditions, including air and water temperature. Avoid conditions for which you are not prepared.

    Pro tip: Cover as much of your skin as possible to prevent sunburns and heat exhaustion.  A dry top jacket with hood, water resistant pants, closed footwear, sunglasses, a visor, and gloves are all recommended in hot, sunny conditions.  NEVER paddle during a thunderstorm.
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  4. Learn about and study your route in advance, especially hazards that are beyond your skill level.

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  5. Carry a supply of food and drinking water adequate for your trips length.

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  6. Be able to read the water and effectively steer and propel your boat. Learn how to rescue yourself and others in the event of a capsize.

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  7. Do not stand up in your boat, and avoid weight shifts that may cause capsize. Do not carry more weight or persons than your boat is designed to safely accommodate.

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  8. Know where the dams are!

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  9. Know and understand your river levels and flows, as well as the weather forecast. Remember, rain that has fallen upstream will be coming downstream!

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  10. Watch out for newer paddlers. Offer advice, be supportive, share your knowledge and make them feel welcome.