Staying in the current or not?

This seems like a really silly question to ask but it is one of the things my tandem partner and I disagree on. He is under the impression that we need to stay in the current basically at all times to include going under very low trees. I, on the other hand feel it is better to leave the current and go around low hanging trees then get back in the current when clear. I am worried about damaging the boat or getting hurt by low branches and do not see much advantage with staying in the current rather than leave and re-enter later. What do y’all think?

For the record I just started paddling a couple of months ago and my partner has been paddling for years.

I’d say it depends

– Last Updated: Aug-19-13 10:10 AM EST –

If you can duck down under low hanging trees with no problem, then it is probably more efficient to stay in the main current stream.

Quite a few times in low water situations you have to stay in the main current stream to avoid grounding out.

But if the water is deep enough, and the trees or branches hang too low to easily duck, why not go around them?

Thanks, that was really what I was thinking.

When faced with a newly downed tree
full of leaves and branches, if I can’t get under the middle of the trunk, I go to the “top” end which is near the bank, where current is weak. Then I try to bull my way through the branches. They’re typically thin and limber, and can be shoved back of me by ones and twos. There’s no risk of getting pinned there, by contrast with trying to parallel park along the trunk with the current trying to push the boat under.

I see no advantage to staying in current

– Last Updated: Aug-19-13 2:11 AM EST –

In cases where rather complex maneuvers are needed to get between logs or branches where a tree, or a few trees, are down, one may need to account for the current, and in so doing, likely make use of the current to get the boat to do what it needs to do. But I can't envision a situation where that makes the process of negotiating the way through any easier. You may need to learn more tricks to make use of current, but that doesn't mean making use of current is "better" than simply avoiding that need as much as practical, though sometimes it may be more fun. Usually you need to pick the best location to get through, which may or may not involve the amount of current at that location. It sounds to me like your friend has his mind made up about something that he actually doesn't understand.

Here's another consideration. My first reaction is to think like a canoer, and the above answer applies in that case, but kayakers usually can't even deploy their paddles while ducking under low fallen tree trunks or when a network of smaller limbs surround them closely both above and all around. In such a situation where the paddle is temporarily useless, surely it's better to be out of the main current than in it.

Use your own judgement
I’ve had a water moccasin drop out of a cypress tree into the boat when I was younger because my brother and I bumped the limbs and I’ve had the low limb actually snag on gear. Then that was two out of the probably over a hundred times I’ve been under low hanging limbs. So use your head, if its safe go for it, if its not safe sacrifice the few seconds it takes you to go around it.

You are playing it safer than.
your partner.

Especially if the river is running high and fast

There could be lots of sweepwers on each side of the river, and it would be dangerous to stay in the current near the shore line. It is much better to stay in the middle regardless of where the current is.

If the river is running slow, then pick any route, and naturally if you see low hanging branches in front of you change your course to the clear way.

Normally the fastest current is in the middle of the river.

Jack L

You both need to learn judgement and how to read the situation and assess potential hazards and act accordingly as required by each specific situation.

Dogmatically following a “rule” is a sure way to get yourself in trouble.

Here’s a Few More Reasons

– Last Updated: Aug-20-13 10:14 AM EST –

Sometimes fishermen will hang "Limb lines" on a hanging branch or tree. Not to mention hooks and lures from inerrant casts.Often it's difficult to see them until the last minute.

Also, sometimes under an OVER hanging limb will be other branches that went into the water and are just underneath, some sticking up. These strainers are well hidden thanks to the shade and screening the overhanging limb provides. "Strainer" think of a colander that you're draining spaghetti in; and YOU are the spaghetti.

Not saying I never go under an over hanging limb, but I do so only if I can see all is clear or am familiar with the water so I know there are no issues.

Going with the flow…

– Last Updated: Aug-19-13 1:38 PM EST –

I see no good reason why you should go under "very low" hanging limbs on purpose; unless that is the only path available, and you believe it can be safely negotiated. You can't always know that it can be done safely; often there are obstacles in the water downstream, hidden by the downed limbs.
Seldom is that route the only one available; you can always pull over, get out, and line your boat past those low hanging limbs, or walk it through if it's shallow.

Why ask for trouble? Why risk your safety? To stay with the current? Are you in a race to get somewhere? Staying with the current, no matter what the obstacles are, sounds like something that "somebody" made up to suit themselves. Unfortunately, you may also suffer the natural conseqences of "their" decision.

One alternative; get your own solo boat, and go where you choose to go; not where "someone else" chooses to take you. Even if they are a significant other.

Do I ever go under low hanging limbs?
Yes I do; mostly to practice manuevering my boat through tight spots.
Sometimes just for the challenge; just to see if I can make it.
I paddle solo; I'm the only one who suffers any negative natural consequences.

If you're doing that when the river is high & running fast; I think you're asking for trouble.


The slow water
And if you are going around blind bends, particularly where there are cut banks and downed trees in quick water, stay in the slow water on the inside of the bend until you can see that the route is clear.

Here’s a good article about that by Cliff Jacobson.

I think your partner enjoys the
challenge of paddling under the limbs. I’m guessing he or she is in the stern and does most of the decision making when it comes to routes down the river. So I don’t think ultimately it is about efficiency- staying in the current or not. I personally like threading between overhanging tree limbs but the hazards are real- snakes, fish hooks, entanglement of clothes/pfd or boat or cargo, a lost hat, getting poked in the eye, leaning away from the obstruction and flipping. All that stuff could happen but then again think about how much practice you are getting. At some future point in time you might not have a choice and the only path down the river is under limbs. I think your partner is enjoying the challenge they have created. You are a bit less adventurous and your comfort zone is different than theirs. My advice: talk to your paddling partner tell them your concerns but also understand his or her need for a little adventure and challenge.

is your paddling friend listed in your

– Last Updated: Aug-20-13 1:38 PM EST –

life insurance plan? Or maybe he's just constantly tuning up for one of those Extreme Sports contests and maybe hasn't been in that difficult water to know how dangerous it can be for a newbie. All the previous, Jacobson article...etc., is good info...when in tandem, unless you both have the experience paddling together..and know the water....take the easy way downstream.


read the water
Its not or never about speed or current. Its totally about “reading” the water. Know what and why a river does from 200 yards upstream is something to strive for. Look at the banks, the shallows, the ripple warks, the different coloration of water which determines different depths. When the wind blows look for opposing ripples that show the current etc. I never just stay in the current. Its NOT faster because if that is all you are doing, and not reading the water then you end up doing a lot o corrective strokes or other paddling to get away, avoiding trees, strainers, weird currents, eddy lines, sweepers. Those things are what you need to look for. You dont want to get up hitting something or flipping in that mess. I guarantee that if an experienced river runner, one who knows how to read water will be much faster, less tired, and stronger at the end of the day.