River scare today.

I bought a nice used Pungo 120 which I am learning pretty good on and having fun, but today I had a scare, a huge scare out on the river. The water seemed to be flowing a little faster than normal and I was using caution while paddling out in the straight part. Everything seemed ok and paddling, while a bit more intense) was doable. I ended up going around the bend and that is when all hell broke loose.

Suddenly I could feel the pull of the river greatly pick up and noticed when I tried to paddle back I couldn’t, the current was just too strong. All I could think of to do is paddle towards the shore which was only 30 feet away, it looked calmer there. It took a solid 15 minutes to paddle out of the current and finally grab onto the shore which I climbed up. My heart was beating fast and I felt weak from my nerves. Had to sit down.

There were damns up ahead and if I couldn’t get out I would of went into the catch net they had there and most likely would of had to call 911 for a rescue(I had my phone with me) I was just so glad I made it out and the hike through the woods to get back to my car was a blessing, not an inconvenience.

I was wearing a life vest, had a whistle and all the safety stuff, but wow…that really shook me up big time, probably wont be back in for a week or so. I have new respect for the river and can see how people get into trouble so quick, it’s not a joke.

Just wanted to share my terrorfying experience…I’m glad I’m on land right now, I’ll ay that,

To help in the future
try to find out if the river you were paddling has a gauge on the USGS water data site near where you paddle. Check out the flow rate for the day you had the problem and if possible for a day where you were comfortable. That way you can have a reference to check in the future before you get on the water.

Use the link below and replace the “tx” with the abbreviation for your state.


It happens to everybody…
so it is good that you got your scare out of the way early. Hopefully it won’t stop you from paddling in the future. It’s a common experience for new boaters who paddle alone on a river (or other body of water) that they are not familiar with. It’s surprisingly easy to get into trouble.

My suggestion is to hook up with a group or club while you get some experience under your belt. You will get to paddle some great places with people who know the trip and can help if you get into trouble. Most groups also hold training classes where you can work on paddle skills, safety and river reading. It’s also nice to meet other paddlers.

Good luck.

I 2nd the group idea
not only is it helpful to have others for the shuttle but it provides a safety element as well when others can help with rescues and the like- although any group is only as good as the paddlers that are in it. Meaning your paddling IQ needs to match the environment that you’re in.

It sounds to me that your learning to respect your environment. Nothing wrong with pulling the plug on a trip when it is out of your comfort range, especially when alone. A common goal for all of us- regardless of craft or location is to boat under control. Understanding water levels is a part of that process. Find and paddle with someone more skilled than yourself and you can learn a lot.

This is an example
of a problem we paddlers, and the manufacturers and sellers of canoes and kayaks, unintentionally perpetuate. Paddling involves very serious life threatening dangers that are not obvious to good well meaning people just starting out in the sport. These dangers are manageable with knowledge, skill development, and good judgment.

I am so glad that you were able to avoid disaster. The lessons I would take from your experience if it were me are:

Don’t paddle a river unless I have studied the river, at least in a river guide, and I am confident that the entire river is within my ability or certainly that I know where the trouble spots are and I plan how to avoid them.

Don’t paddle a river unless I know the water level and the impact that the water level will have on the difficulties I will face.

Don’t paddle a river alone until I have developed the knowledge and skill needed to recognize danger and keep myself reasonably safe.

Never forget that this is a dangerous sport and that I have to anticipate dangers and control them as much as possible.

I have been paddling all my life in many different environments. Still, even to this day, I pay close attention to these facts of paddling life. I want to live to enjoy my family and so I take this stuff seriously and so do the people I paddle with. Like you, I made dangerous mistakes in the beginning and like you I was lucky and lived to tell the tale. I believe that as paddlers we foster dangerous practices because we tend to unintentionally minimize the dangers of the sport. I urge you not to listen to people who minimize the dangers and instead to listen to people who recognize dangers and explain how to manage them in a reasonably safe way.

One other danger that is not a factor in your story is cold water, and by that I mean 60 degrees and lower. If you are alone on a body of water in cold water, no matter how warm the air is, you are in very serious trouble if you swamp your canoe unless you are close to shore. PFDs and cell phone will not save you. Stay close to shore on calm water until you have more experience and know how to manage the dangers of cold water.

Sounds like
this is a river that should be left to those in full out ww boats or canoes in the spring or after any heavier rainfall. The Pungo is a tracker, a ww boat is designed to turn more easily. Too easily to be fun in flat water, but a great idea for current.

Or maybe you are in a location where you could get some help and learn moving water skills down the road, add that to your paddling. Used ww boats tend to be around pretty cheaply and with the right boat, class 2 was a lot of fun once I remembered to breathe. :slight_smile:

It is always great to hear that someone realizes early enough they are in a bad spot to get themselves out. We had a tragedy locally just this last week, someone in a group who went down a usually benign local creek after too much rain for it to have been a good idea.

River information
Another place to find river information and gauges:


Glad you’re OK.

River conditions can change dramatically after a rain or melt. A small change in level can cause a significant change in volume and speed.

Every spring paddlers are surprised when the lazy river they drifted down late last summer turns out to be much faster than they remembered…

count it as a blessing
It was a lesson without grave consequences, and it was free.

The USGS site is invaluable. Check the river level every time you paddle for future reference. Its nice to be able to relate a guage reading to actual conditions.

Here is the nationwide link. Just click on your state.


I use it all the time because we take newbies on the Mississippi each week. I’ve found that over 9.5ft on a nearby guage is sketchy for newer paddlers, so when its higher than that we go to a lake.

Great discussion topic.

find where any dams are + keep on

– Last Updated: Jun-18-14 1:19 PM EST –

learning the signs for what is/might be up ahead.

Paddle upstream

Hey Eric,

Glad this one turned out OK. You’ll have a lot more fun, get better at paddling, and stay a lot safer if you take a few lessons. Find a local paddling group and/or outfitter and spend time with folks who are more experienced than you are. It has made me a better and safer paddler and almost certainly will benefit you as well…



Fear and anxiety are natural

– Last Updated: Jun-18-14 3:10 PM EST –

I capsized in my surfski in the ocean in 57 degree water while entering Mason's Inlet this spring and it was absolutely horrible. I have been paddling for 21 years, and I was on the brink of cold water shock: hyperventilated, panicked, and failed the first remount. I floated in the surf for 5 minutes until I calmed myself and then made it in past the shoals and through the inlet.

You learned a valuable lesson.

Educate yourself. Train for your activity. Acquire the necessary skills and paddle the right boat for the conditions. I survived because I had the skills and equipment.

Still, I was cocky and under-dressed. I am lucky to have survived and I will not take it for granted in the future.

Everyone needs a scare
It’s easy to get the idea that this “simple” sport has little potential for danger and that no great skill is needed, as long as nothing ever goes wrong. Now it’s probably much easier for you to believe/understand what people are talking about when they speak of developing basic skills, either through lessons or by doing trips with more experienced paddlers. For example, in this case, you didn’t need a whitewater boat or anything like that to get off to shore in a really short time, just the know-how regarding a good way to make it happen. Along with that is the ability to look at the water and really see what’s happening, and know how it will affect your plans. In the meantime, I bet you are a lot better at figuring out what conditions might be too much for you than was the case the previous day. That’s progress!

You have three issues
1. You don’t know how to paddle in swift currents. This is a technical, learned skill. It’s different from paddling on still water. A kid who can drive a car in an empty parking lot doesn’t know how to drive on the Autobahn. The best way to learn is to find a teacher – that is, an experienced river paddler, most likely in a paddling club.

2. You don’t understand how to read a river or how current dynamics and differentials affect a boat. This takes experience. You just got some.

3. You’re not in a good boat for swift river paddling.

When you went around the bend the river may have narrowed or the gradient may have gotten steeper, or both. This would accelerate the current speed.

If you mean you tried to back paddle, that is a good strategy. But you have to angle the stern toward the shore – say, a 45 degree angle – as you back paddle. This is the classic “back ferry”, which will slow down your forward motion while moving you sideways to the shore. To induce the angle, you do a backward sweep stroke on one side of the boat until you reach the angle you want, after which you back paddle hard.

That would have been just one strategy. There are many others that experienced river paddlers use.

If you are diligent in learning how to paddle in swift currents and then in rapids, you will eventually be “dominating” and even playing in that kind of water with complete confidence.

Thanks for the replies and info.

I saw just the day before, two people(a larger woman and an old man) in small Kayaks,come from around the bend, looked easy. Then they paddled upstream. So the next day I went where they did and the water just picked up I could see it moving pretty dang fast(no rapids) I could here the rumble of the dams up ahead, but still a good distance from them. Hearing the damns ahead and with the water getting heavy to row I panicked. It is possibl if I just went with the flow I would of came out of it the thing I was trapped in could of just dispersed and got calmer…possibly the other kayakers knew that so they just ride it out and have fun with it. Well I guess that is experience for you and I really didn’t know what would go on if I rode it out. Al I knew then is I picked up some major speed in the current and wanted to get the H out of there.

This river is full of damns, one upstream, two down stream from where I paddle. I know the level can rise quickly, because they open the gates on the upstream one sometimes…There is a hydro electric plant there.

Probably not the best place to start, but I’ve done ok until that day. I’ve been practicing my paddling a lot, doing it the right way even doing front ferries in some mild choppy current.

This incident didn’t scare me away though, but I did learn a lesson, a big one… I played with a river that is notorious around here for being unpredictable. I got cocky and go into some trouble, because I couldn’t see the signs and it stung me. People think it is easy to just paddle around, but it is very serious out there…gotta be careful and don’t go beyond your skill level.

Getting a group is a good idea… Would of felt safer with others around and being alone really sucked that day… I’m just lucky I fought the Black River and it didn’t get me that day.

For now I’m sticking to the kiddy beach, lol.

I used the site and got this current data for the Black River station in watertown… Not sure what it al means, but see it has a blue dot saying above normal… It does seem to be flowing harsher than normal for the past few days.

Drainage area: 1864 mi2

Discharge: 7360 cfs

Stage: 5.99 ft

Date: 2014-06-19 08:30:00

Flood stage: 10 ft

Percentile: 98.99 %

Class symbol: symbol

% normal (median): 342.33 %

% normal (mean): 271.73 %


– Last Updated: Jun-19-14 11:35 AM EST –

The information from gauge to gauge means nothing really. Its all dependent on where that specific gauge is placed.

With that information you posted, take note of how the river conditions were. I created an excel spreadsheet for the rivers around me. When I paddle them, I will record the flow (cfs) and gauge height, then make a short note of the river conditions like: "Backwaters were nearly flooded. Current was around 2mph and very strong in some spots. River had a few boils and turbulent water around the island"

After you do this a few times, you can look back on your notes and compare them to the current flow, giving you a pretty good idea of what to expet when you get there. I suggest you (and everyone) start something like that. I think its very useful to have.

As for the data itself:
Drainage area: 1864 mi2 - self explanatory
Discharge: 7360 cfs - self explanatory
Stage: 5.99 ft - How high the river is on that particular gauge
Date: 2014-06-19 08:30:00 - self explanatory
Flood stage: 10 ft - self explanatory
Percentile: 98.99 % - compared to the average flow, how does the current flow compare?
Class symbol: symbol - Classes are low - below average - average - above average - high
% normal (median): 342.33 % - self explanatory
% normal (mean): 271.73 % - self explanatory

Slight modification to your explanation:

– Last Updated: Jun-19-14 12:55 PM EST –

Where you said...

Percentile: 98.99 % - compared to the average flow, how does the current flow compare?

... I believe what that really means is that this flow is 99-percent of the greatest flow ever recorded at that site, *on this particular day of the year*. The data below compare the present rate of flow to the average and the median rates of flow, but I'm not sure if those are long-term values or calendar-date values.

Oh, note also that the a reading of 0 percent would not be the same as no flow, but the same as the lowest flow ever recorded on that particular day. The total scale of comparison is the lowest to highest flow recorded on that day.