GENERAL Safety Tips

Flat Water Safety

Safety on flat water is often overlooked, but it is just as important as on rivers and on the ocean. The basic rules are the following:

1.  Don’t drink and paddle.
2.  Wear a PFD (Personal Flotation Device, commonly known as lifejackets).
3.  Make sure your boat has sufficient buoyancy to keep the boat afloat in the case of a capsize.
4.  Take precautions against dehydration and sunburn.
5.  Learn and practise self-rescue skills.


River Safety

No matter how good you are and how well you know rivers, safety remains one of the most important aspects of paddling. Rivers are dynamic and things sometimes do go wrong. Without firsthand knowledge of how to deal with the unexpected, one’s paddling career, and even one’s life, can be at stake. It is strongly recommended that all white water paddlers do an accredited swiftwater rescue course. It may just save your own or somebody else’s life. All paddlers are also advised to do a First Aid course.

Some basic principles regarding safety on rivers:

1.  Don’t drink and paddle.
2.  Wear a PFD and helmet.
3.  Get qualified instruction to learn proper paddling and river running techniques.
4.  Get a bomb proof roll! It is possible to paddle lower grade rapids without a good roll, but you put yourself and your fellow paddlers at unnecessary risk of you keep swimming instead of rolling.
5.  Organise trips properly. It is also necessary to choose/accept a qualified and experienced paddler as the leader of the group to prevent chaos.
6.  When scouting rapids, remember to be just as safety-conscious as on the water. Keep helmets and lifejackets on when scrambling over rocks on the bank of the river.
7.  Never try to stand up in flowing water that is more than knee-deep. Foot entrapments happen easily and can be painful, and even fatal.
8.  Never lean away from any obstacle that you may hit with your floating craft, be that a rock, tree, fence, or whatever.  “Hug the rock” is the slogan here, otherwise you will definitely capsize and get washed underneath both the obstacle and your own craft.
9.  Always stay away from trees or other strainers in the water and any man-made objects in the river, such as weirs and low-level bridges. They are lethal. Some weirs are safe to shoot, but most of them are not and may prove to be fatal.
10.  Always swim down a rapid in the cocktail position. That means on your back, feet pointing downstream, while using your hands to steer. Try to keep hold of your paddle and boat while swimming, except when doing so will worsen your situation.
11.  It will be a good idea to invest in a throw rope, karabiners, prussics and slings when running rivers larger than Class 2. Even more important: learn how to use them! But be careful – ropes are potentially very dangerous in water, so only use them for emergencies and with the required skills.
12.  Although this was often neglected in the past, more private trippers see the importance of taking a medical kit along on the water. Just like the other safety kit, this is standard equipment for river guides.
13.  Remember that self-rescue is the first line of defense. Rescue operations that are done by your fellow paddlers put them at risk. An external rescue attempt by something like a helicopter is a last resort, and it is unlikely to be in time for a live rescue.


Ocean Safety

The ocean is a temperamental beast. It offers some of the most precious experiences one can ask for, but it doesn’t take mercy on the unprepared. It is strongly recommended that all ocean paddlers do an accredited ocean kayak rescue course, and also a First Aid course.

Some basic principles regarding safety on the ocean:

1.  Don’t drink and paddle.
2.  Wear a PFD.
3.  Get qualified instruction to learn proper paddling technique. On the ocean, the ability to negotiate breaking waves when leaving or returning to shore is crucial.
Inform someone of your paddling plans, including info like where you are going, when do you expect to return, and how many people are in your group.
4.  Be very aware of weather conditions and water temperature, and plan accordingly. Conditions can change quickly on the ocean.
5.  Beware of off-shore winds that can make it difficult to return to shore.
6.  When paddling in a new area, discuss the conditions with the locals. Most important are currents, shoreline conditions and weather patterns.


If you want to push the limits, then do so regularly.
Being extreme and surviving is not a part-time occupation, it’s a lifestyle.