June 24, 2024

Note: This content was originally published on June 30, 2021. To view that post, click here.

As a certified canoe and kayak instructor for the Iowa DNR, I have seen it all. People buy their first boat and head to the river before understanding the environment they are about to enter and without the skills they need to remain safe and anxiety-free. Here are “Todd’s Top Ten” for new paddlers and a few reminders for the seasoned. Remember, we need to support one another. Share skills and knowledge with others and pass these tips on to fellow paddlers.

  1. We are ALL in between swims. Dress for the water, not the air, and always wear your life jacket. Understand hypothermia and cold-water shock. This is especially important if you are paddling in the spring and fall — cold water months.
  2. Understand how a river works and know how to “read it.” When just starting out, stick to flat water like a small lake. Practice!

  3. Know about hazards. “Strainers” are piles of wood that collect and can suck a boat and body in and under, trapping them both. Learn how to control your boat and navigate properly.
  4. Never go over a low-head dam. Watch for warning signs. Plan your trip ahead of time, “know before you go” where they are located and where you will “portage” around and when.
  5. Take paddling lessons if possible. Learn the terminology of strokes you will need to use and how to use them.
  6. Do NOT tuck lifejackets up under deck rigging or sit on them. They will not be there when you need them. WEAR IT. Research all rules and regulations.
  7. Before that first paddle of the season, get your boats and gear out and do an inspection. Check for cracks and holes, broken zippers and buckles. If needed, repair and/or replace.
  8. File a float plan. That’s as easy as letting someone know where you are going and about what time you will return.
  9. Stay hydrated. Paddling can be a physically demanding activity at times. You’ll need to stay properly fueled and hydrated.
  10. Paddle in a group or with experienced friends, especially if you are new to paddling. Don’t paddle alone.

For additional water safety tips, check out this release from the Iowa DNR.

About the Author: Todd Robertson is a certified canoe and kayak instructor for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.