River Canoeing 101

Bumper boats are a lot of fun – in amusement parks. Playing around in lakes can also be fun. But when it comes to moving water, learning how to handle your boat properly won’t just keep you dry, it just might save your life.

River canoeing can be a peaceful getaway. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

What can go wrong?
Whether you’re a novice scrambler, backcountry skier or river paddler – the enormity of potential risk involved in your chosen sport is often not realised until you gain a little experience. And there are countless degrees of risk.

If you capsize your canoe, for example, in a warm, shallow, slow-moving creek, all you have to do is stand up or dog paddle to shore. You’ll be wet and your gear might be soaked if you opted for garbage bags instead of drybags, but you’re not likely to die of hypothermia.

Capsize your canoe in a fast-moving, glacier-fed river and not only is hypothermia an issue, but so are the sweepers (fallen trees lying half-submerged in the river) and mid-stream obstacles (bridge pilings and rocks) that exist in the river environment.

What do you need to canoe a river safely?

  • the proper gear
  • knowledge of how to read a river
  • knowledge of how to eddy out and mastery of basic strokes
  • ability to rescue fellow canoeists should they tip over
  • ability to safely swim the river should you hit the water

How can you gain canoeing skills?

Take a course, join a canoe club, or start paddling with experienced friends.

Minimum Gear Required:

  • river canoe (different from a lake canoe)
  • three paddles (one for each paddler and a spare)
  • PFD (personal floatation device that doesn’t work well if you use it for a seat cushion)
  • whistle attached to said PFD
  • throw bag (rescue rope)
  • bailing bucket (and sponge for mopping up extra water)

© 2011

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