HOOD RIVER, Oregon -- The world’s first casualties of standup paddling took place on a river, highlighting the exceptional dangers posed by running fresh water. We’ve asked river expert and standup paddle extraordinaire, Dan Gavere, to make a ‘Must-Know Safety List’ for anyone who is thinking about taking a standup paddle board to a river. Below is the list.
1. Know How to Swim Competently & How to Whitewater Swim
Know how to swim competently! Being a strong swimmer is mandatory for entering the whitewater environment. But that alone is not enough. You must learn the whitewater swim position. Rocks, branches, and other obstacles and debris are equally dangerous (and sometimes more of a danger than the water), so learning how to swim and position your body once falling in the water is pivotal for sup river safety.
2. Never Paddle Alone for a Partner is Often Your Best Life Insurance
Never paddle alone. Having a friend along with you is the single best way for offer or receive a rescue when in need.
3. Always Wear a Personal Floatation Device: Safety Comes Before Fashion
Wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) at all times when in the river. The extra flotation will mean you can swim more efficiently without getting sucked under. Flotation also provides a face up floating orientation so you will be able to breathe even if unconscious, not to mention the impact protection the life jacket provides. This is the one piece of equipment that is required on any type of moving water environment.
4. Wear a Helmet: Being Unconscious Nearly Dooms Your Chances of Survival
Wear a helmet. Being unconscious in the river is one of the most lethal positions you can put yourself in. You are the most likely person to perform a rescue (self rescue) but if you’re unconscious you have drastically reduced your chances of survival.
5. Never Try to Find Footing to Stand Up: That Can Lead to Serious Injuries & Death
Never Stand Up in the River. There is a common situation called “foot entrapment,” where a person’s foot becomes trapped or wedged between rocks in the river bottom and then their body is pushed down below the surface by the current of the river. This is particularly dangerous because even the strongest person sometimes can’t fight the current. In which case, the person will remain underwater and/or with her foot trapped, eventually leading to drowning.
6. Know the River, Its Sections, Obstacles, and Dangers Before Entering
Be aware of the section of river you’re going to paddle and any known dangers that may exist, like strainers, low head dams, trees, undercuts, etc… If you are not aware of these terms or what they mean, then you need more knowledge and training before attempting any whitewater. DO THE RESEARCH AND LEARN!
7. Understand the Dangers/Benefits of a Leash Before Wearing One
Know the dangers and benefits of wearing a leash and, if wearing one, only use leashes with a quick release system in the river. NEVER EVER attach your leash to your ankle while paddling in a river.
Note that this is a basic list and that by no means it will guarantee safety when standup paddling on rivers. Additional caution must always be taken and the standup paddler must be extremely attuned to the changing dynamics of the water and the risks it poses, including even the risk of death. If you have no or minimal experience on rivers, consult with a local river expert before attempting to go for a paddle.
Previously Published October 31, 2010 on SUP Connect Photo: Rob Casey