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Rivers present a variety of dangers to the unwary. Rocks, logs, and other obstacles can cause serious injury if you hit them. Strong currents can sweep you away. Hypothermia can quickly set in if you get wet and cold.

To stay safe on your next river trip, be aware of the dangers and take precautions. By being aware of the hazards and taking necessary precautions, you can help ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

Life jackets, boating helmets, and protective sport shoes should be worn. Prescription fishing sunglasses can be tied to the life jacket by a two-foot piece of cord or a shoelace.

Rubber wet suits provide protection against hypothermia if the wearer is thrown into cold waters. The general rule when capsized is to stay with your craft since it should be able to support the passengers, even when it is filled with water.

Ropes should be attached to the craft to allow the boater to hang on with one hand while padding to shore with the other.

Containers for boiling water, safety lines for rescues, extra flotation devices, emergency rations, first aid kits, and extra paddles should be carried.

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Clothing items include a wool hat, wool or synthetic sweater, wool socks, gloves, windbreaker, rain parka or paddling jacket, swimsuit, and a change of clothes for after river running.

Equipment should always be checked to be sure that it is in good repair, and appropriate repair materials should be brought along. One should never boat alone.

A minimum of three boats and boaters should travel together and maintain visual communication. Moreover, a trip is more comfortable with bug repellent, suntan lotion, and a hat for shore.

All supplies should be placed in waterproof protectors that are strapped to the craft. A river trip should not be attempted until the necessary skills are mastered in calm water.

Successful River Trips

Always take the time to assess the risks before getting on the water, and make sure you have the proper gear and skills to safely navigate the river

Successful river trips are dependent on the river runner’s ability to read hazards and select routes that avoid danger.

Guidebooks, U.S. Geological Survey maps, rangers, and wilderness outfitters should be consulted before a downriver adventure is attempted. The ability to swim is essential, and skillful boat handling is important but not enough.

The adventurer should read extensively to learn to read water and weather. Rivers have common features such as wide V-patterns, known as tongues, which point the way downstream between rocks.

V-patterns pointing upstream warn of submerged boulders, while a horizontal line indicates that a dam or vertical drop lies ahead.

Dangerous water traps called suckholes form when water flows over an obstacle with force causing the flow to reverse at the obstacle’s base. The currents form a hole that can trap a boat.

Eddies or pools of calm water which tend to collect debris can be found in the midst of raging streams.

They can provide a refuge, a place to relax and to judge the next set of rapids. Even before entering the craft, efforts should be made to identify rough water, boulders, and other obstacles from shore.

International Difficulty Scale of Rivers

How to Stay Safe on Your Next River Trip - Crossing
River travel is a complete change of pace for most people

Rivers of higher levels are attempted only after the lower grades are mastered. The International Difficulty Scale of rivers is as follows:

Class I

Moving water with a few riffles and small waves. Few or no obstructions.

Class II

Easy rapids with waves up to three feet and wide, clear, obvious channels. Some maneuvering is required but no scouting.

Class III

Rapids with high, irregular waves capable of swamping an open canoe. Narrow passages require complex maneuvers and possible scouting from shore.

Class IV

Long, difficult rapids with constricted passages that often require precise maneuvering in very turbulent waters. Scouting from shore is necessary, and rescue may be difficult. Generally not possible for open canoes.

Class V

Extremely difficult, long, violent rapids with congested routes requiring scouting from shore and precise moves. Rescue is difficult, and there is significant hazard to life. The Eskimo roll is essential for kayaks and covered canoes. Paddle rafts are at the very edge of possibility.

Class VI

Difficulties of Class V carried to the extreme of navigability. Nearly impossible and very dangerous. For teams of experts only.

The International Difficulty Scale of rivers is a means of rating the level of difficulty for a particular river. This scale is based on the skill level required to navigate the river and its potential hazards.

It is important to note that this scale is not a definitive ranking, as each river presents its own unique challenges. However, it can be used as a guide to help choose the right river for your skill level.


River running can be a very rewarding experience, but it is important to remember that rivers can be dangerous.

Rivers can be unpredictable and dangerous, so it is important to know your abilities and what risks you are willing to take. If you are a beginner, always start out on a mellower section of the river and work your way up.

Wear a life jacket and make sure you have the proper gear, such as a helmet, to keep yourself safe. Be aware of obstacles like rocks and rapids, and never try to run a river that is beyond your skill level.

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