June 27, 2023

That title is accurate. We are all in between swims. It’s only a matter of time before we misjudge while reading a river, we lose our balance while leaning the wrong direction or maybe we cross an eddyline and are not ready for the current and next thing you know, flipped. It happens so fast. Do you have a plan for when you do hit the water? Are you prepared? Are you dressed for water temps? Have you filed your float plan?

I could spend a whole week talking about safety while paddling. While I cannot do that here, maybe I can offer up a few tips, reminders and links. I also want to point to the fact that there are new paddlers hitting the water every day now through October and even later into the year. At local retailers, kayak, SUP and canoe sales are still at a high level and there seems to be no slowing down. The Iowa DNR is continuing its work with retailers on training staff and supplying stores with safety brochures, water trail maps, litter bags and more.

Things to remember:

  • A river is not a flat road. Think of it more as a liquid highway with its own potholes and ups and downs. Holes can be scoured out so if you are walking along a sandbar or wading out in the current, your next step may find you over your head in water. Also remember that if you are standing in current in knee high water or above, you can easily get swept off your feet and taken out to deeper water. This is why it is so important to watch the kiddoes and friends/family when on the water’s edge. Things can happen fast and silently. Wear your lifejacket!
  • Be sure to file your float plan before starting your trip. This means tell someone where you are going, where you are putting in, taking out and about how long you are planning to be out. Wear your lifejacket!
  • Improve your boat control skills. Being able to navigate your boat efficiently is a major key to enjoying your trip and staying safe. Learn how to read the river. Know before you go! Wear your lifejacket!
  • Beware of STRAINERS! These piles of wood and snags can suck you under and trap you. You will see them on the outside of bends, against bridge piers, and even stream wide. These become numerous after high water events as debris is washed in off the river bank. If you cannot safely navigate around a “strainer”, get out well above and portage the hazard. Being underwater and pushed against wood is not where you want to be.
  • It is starting to heat up. Take plenty of drinking water on your paddling adventure. Do not forget sunscreen. Paddle with family or friends, not alone. And is it worth repeating? You bet! Wear the lifejacket!

Here are a few links that you may find useful. With the interactive map, you can see where major hazards like low head dams and logjams are located, access locations, liveries for rentals and much more.

Iowa DNR Canoe, SUP and Kayak Schools

Iowa DNR Plan Your Trip

Iowa DNR Paddlers Interactive Map

About the Author: Todd Robertson has spent the last fifteen years as River Program’s outreach coordinator for the Iowa DNR. Certified canoe and paddleboard instructor, avid cyclist both road and mountain and proud dog dad. Todd is also the lead patient advocate for the National Blood Clot Alliance and a six-time clot survivor.