Randy Carter Gauges

 Recently purchased a copy of Virginia Whitewater by H. Roger Corbett. It talks about a system of determining whether a river has enough water to paddle or not. Bridge abutments were marked to determine canoe zero.(min floatable level) Seems simple enough. Question....where do you find canoe zero listed?(other than bridge abutments) Virginia Whitewater says they are listed in the book. Perhaps I can't see the forest for the trees but I cannot find them. I am very familiar with the levels (based on the USGS readings) of a few frequently paddled rivers. It would be nice to have additional info when trying out new rivers. Any additional info would be greatly appreciated.

A lot of gauges mentioned in the older guide books no longer exist. Others are badly faded and hard to spot. Try checking www.americanwhitewater.org. They provide river info on a state-by-state basis. For each river, guage information is usually provided. Many rivers now have automated gauges with on-line, real time info. If there is one available, flow data will be provided.

I have USGS
web site bookmarked. How do you determine floatable river levels without actually floating that particular section of river?

The book gives USGS data if it is availa
I don’t have it in front of me, but doesn’t the book give minimum water levels for a section based on a specified gauge? That level on the Gauge is “canoe zero.” If there is no USGS gauge, and there is a painted gauge on a bridge, then Roger referenced that “Randy Carter” gauge.

For example, for the Remington to Kellys Ford section of the Rappahanock (pictured on the cover), Roger listed 3.6 (?–trying to remember, don’t have the book out) on the Remmington Gauge as the minimum level, and that is your canoe zero. I considered Corbett as my canoeing mentor and paddled with him frequently during the last few years of his life. The gauge reading that equated to canoe zero was a frequent topic of conversation on trips with Roger.

Does that help?

~~Chip Walsh, Gambrills, MD

I think I have it figured out now. The upper James is floatable most of the year so apparently there is no canoe zero listed in the book. Some sections of the James (Bent Creek to JRSP for one) are pretty tough right now with our lack of rain but are passable for skilled paddlers. An average paddler is likely to get hung up some. The Maury River does have canoe zero gauge listings in the book. There are some small rivers that I float with gauges that there are no canoe zero listings.(eg: Pigg River) Guess I will have to determine my own canoe zero.

All pretty subjective
the gauges listed on the AW page hardly ever correlate to bridge abuttment readings. IF you’re using the AW gauges each section has a minimum and maximum paddling level advice. However, canoeing zero is subjective. Where I cannot go at a certain water level perhaps others could. Tye River is a good example. Canoeing zero on the bridge gauge used to be 400 on the online gauge and is now 120, I think, but we’ve run the river numberous times as far down as 75 and got through with minimal scraping. We’ve run the Tye at minus 6 inches on the bridge gauge and had a good run. Balcony Falls is another example, the “minimum” is 2.8. Right now the online gauge is at 2.3 and we’re still running it and still having fun. As I recall, Randy Carter based “canoeing zero” when a knowledable paddler would not have to get out of his boat and push. Seems fair enough to me. Also depends on your boat. Some draft less than others, and some turn better to miss the rocks and find the chutes. One thing you’ll always find on these Virginia rivers is a chute about 10 feet wide in every ledge where the batteau companies would blast the ledges so their batteau could travel even at low water. If you follow the bubble street 9 times out of 10 it will lead you to the chute:)

Va. River History
I don’t know if all Va. Rivers were blasted to promote commerce. I suspect you have to look at the question river by river and consider the history of commerce in the particular watershed.

Blasted ledges are clearly evident in the Shenandoah, were the main commercial vessels were called gundalows, not batteau. The gundalows were 10 feet wide and 60 to 90 feet long, and were only run downriver in periods of high flow, usually, spring. The gundalows were disassembled at Harpers Ferry and sold as lumber. Besides blasting the ledges, they also made rubble jams for the purpose of concentrating the flow of water into a specific slot or channel to provide enough water depth to float the gundalows.


Great Info
canoe and booz. I have lived in VA most of my life and am somewhat familiar with VA history but your info was new to me.

I will take canoe zero with a grain of salt and just use as a basic guideline for rivers I have never paddled.

say, when are you gonna paddle
with me?