Reading rivers and responsiblility

I paddled the Bogue Chitto River this past Sunday with an extended group that included two 8 year olds and a 12 year old that had minimal paddling skills. I’m used to going solo or with one other partner and have reasonable skills and know my limitations. I’ve enjoyed paddling this river many times since it keeps things interesting and provides a cool swim in our hot summers.

As soon as we put in and I saw that the two youngest couldn’t paddle in a straight line I realized that the day wasn’t going to be very relaxing. I can’t imagine how a guide can handle a large group of inexperienced paddlers-it’s got to be nerve wracking!

The biggest problem was reading submerged logs and negotiating downed trees. The Bogue Chitto has many of these with the submerged trees not readily apparent until you’re right on top. Many could be floated over, some would catch you in mid pass, and others would stop you short, resulting in a dangerous situation. I would negotiate these with no problem by myself, but often watched helplessly as the boys paddled into a bad situation.

I finally started to make the group pull over when I wasn’t sure. We ended up having a nice time after a few hairy situations woke everyone up.

How do all of you river runners read the downed trees?

Avoid Such A River
with beginners. Down and submerged trees are hazards. The paddlers need to know how to maneuver their craft around them and how to deal with these if they end up swimming.

Better than sorry, especially with kids.


Polarized lenses and practice help.
Usually the current indicates something in the water that is too close to the surface to clear. A windy day can make it more difficult to read. Polarized lenses allow me to look into the water and get a slightly better idea of how much water is flowing over an object. Outside bends tend to have more obvious strainers and log piles. Inside bends tend to have shallow areas that can catch junk and logs. Deeper water tends to run from outside bend to outside bend. That means it crosses the river as the river changes direction. If water levels are low, I try to follow the current thru deeper water. If you see a rootwad, look for the rest of the tree. If you see a horizon line, it’s likely that the trunk is close to the surface. There are many variations of these basic rules, so experience is how you hone your skills.

When we go with a group, we are careful to match paddler skills to our choice of water. We stick to lakes and wide, slow rivers with folks who don’t have their basic strokes. We keep the distances short if the river is more demanding. We try to encourage people to learn a good upstream and downstream ferry and use them. Backpaddling and setting a turn helps give time and control to deal with obstructions. We also practice skills in easy spots until they are reasonably reliable. Then when we move up to more difficult water, it’s more fun and safer.

Couple of options
Well, the advice above about choosing different rivers for kids might be right on - but, two options if the kids “must” go:

Put each child in a boat with an adult or older (more experienced) young person.

If the two little guys need to paddle together for some reason, put a more experienced adult in front of them, and perhaps another behind. Make it clear that they’re to follow (as best they can) exactly the path the adult takes. If they do get in trouble, the adult to the rear would be there to assist.

Some of the worst times
I have had on the river was when I have had to ask people to leave the trip because they could only “talk the talk but not paddle the paddle” or something like that.

Experience on reading water takes time and experience and follows what the other individuals here have said. Of course even with the best reading and skills the unexpected happens which adds to the excitement.

Kids that age and with that little …
experience should not be on a river with dangerous swepers and logs.

If the current will gently push them up against a down log that is one thing, but a fast current against a downed log can be a killer unless the paddler has a lot of prior experience in dealing with it.

It should come with experience by learning to read the river in gentle currents.



yep learned the hard way
to read the rivers for obstructions. Just takes practice.

I can relate our first experience with reading rivers.

I had done some bigger rivers, the Catawba/Wateree/Santee river system and the Savannah River. Both rivers are rather large, with pretty swift currents (up to 6 mph) but generally you just get in the middle and go fast. Our first experience on a constricted river was our trip a few months ago down the North Fork of the Edisto River down in South Carolina. My girlfriend and I were paddling relatively long (14’ for her 17’ for me) Cape Horns with solid chines running the length of the boats. They are great for going straight but can be a bear to turn.

After a few turns and learning to anticipate having to start early on any moves I wanted to make I felt pretty comfortable paddling the constricted and tree filled river. My girlfriend took a bit longer to get adjusted and it was a while before she came to realize that powerful strokes and sweeps were necessary to put the boat where you want it.

We were lucky in that we had experienced guys with us that were invaluable to both our piece of mind and sheparding us through the difficult parts (Swedge, Tripp and Seatec…all P-Netters!). I was really worried about my girlfriend most of the first day and was constantly bending my neck to make sure she wasn’t having difficulty getting through some sections. She took one spill on the first day and lucky for me she’s a tough cookie, shook it off and became even more determined.

I can’t imagine herding 5 or 6 novices through tight quarters…keeping track of one or two is probably taxing enough!

Doing anything with people that are more experienced makes learning fun…we were lucky that we had a great group that we went with…