Tips for Safe Paddling in High Water


IMG_1982It’s been raining like crazy here in the Southeast this summer and the rivers have been big and brown. There’s been so much rain that I’ve heard paddlers actually praying for more sun and clear skies! You don’t hear that very often, especially this time of year when the rivers are usually drying up.

It’s exciting to see so much water and to experience rivers running 10 times what they normally run. I ran the Nolichucky last week at close to 20, 000 CFS. A normal good level for that river is 2000 CFS. The French Broad was also running about 20K and the normal level for this time of year is usually just under 1K. The Green was running upwards of 40 inches, Big Laurel was over 5 ft and the Nantahala was over 6K when it usually runs something like 700 CFS.

Running rivers at high water or flood stage can be exciting and fun, but it can also be very dangerous. Here are some tips for staying safe in this abundance of water.

1. When a river is running really high consider it to be a class above its usual classification. For example, if a river is normally considered a Class III run, at flood stage consider it at least a Class IV run. Even if you’ve paddled it a lot, know that features will change with high water.

2. If the river is at a good level, but it’s raining hard and the forecast calls for more rain, assume that the river will rise or is rising. IMG_1958Getting caught on a river when it spikes or rises rapidly is scary and no fun. If the level is right at your limit don’t take the chance in having it rise above your skill level while you’re out there. Remember that the river will be there tomorrow and consider waiting until the rain stops before putting on.

3. High water requires Class V rescue abilities. Getting someone to shore becomes very difficult in high, big volume, fast flowing current. If you put on a river at flood stage be confident in your ability to stay in your kayak (ie combat roll), in your ability to self-rescue in difficult water and in your group’s rescue abilities and training.

4. Choose a river that is normally below your skill level if you want to experiment with paddling something at high water. It could be way more fun and exciting than you think. This will give you a chance to see what it’s like without being at your edge.

Stay safe out there and have fun!

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