THE UNCALCULATED RISK (1977) Historic Film About Whitewater Safety

Fellow Paddlers – I was able to locate an archived copy of this classic and upload it to YouTube with decent resolution. Old timers will fondly remember this pioneering film and how well it was received by the paddling community back in the day. It’s noteworthy for not sugarcoating the hazards, and it pulls no punches in laying out the fastest ways to get yourself killed in whitewater sports.

The Uncalculated Risk was the first film in an excellent whitewater safety series produced by the American Red Cross in the late 1970’s. The opening sequence, filmed on the Nantahala River in North Carolina, is a very realistic depiction of a classic foot entrapment. Cinematographer Russ Nichols did a superb job filming it. One of the film’s narrators is Payson Kennedy, co-founder of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a nationally recognized school for paddlers.

The title alone is brilliant, urging the viewer to think about the distinction between an informed vs uninformed approach to paddling - a calculated vs uncalculated risk. This was also the first time that the danger of an unprotected cold water immersion was mentioned in relation to paddling, and in 1977 that was a real pioneering achievement. A solid Five Stars, well earned.

Moulton Avery
National Center for Cold Water Safety

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Thanks for posting. Have to admit that the first part was pretty disturbing.

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Yeah, “feet up, butt down”. I really liked the guy who said his friend must be an expert because he’s been sailing.

Thanks for the Wayback Machine trip. I have the paddle at 4:43, a pole vaulting pole with metal tips in the blade. Use it when there’s ice. And I wear the PFD at 6:15 - red Extrasport with white zipper. It floats me higher than the one I bought a few years back. Not sure why the new one needed to be dark instead of brightly colored, but the sales tags emphasized the pockets and they sure are nifty.

The boats, gear and hair styles may have changed but the people stay the same.

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Outstanding…thank you for posting. The lessons & wisdom presented still applies in general toward paddling today.

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I hear you. I showed that film countless times and it never failed to give me goose bumps at the opening.

I haven’t seen anything like it since then. There were three films in the series and I’m still looking for Whitewater Primer and Margin for Error. It’s strange and sad to me that a series that good just faded away. That was a real loss to paddlesports safety.

Thanks Moulton.
If you run rivers you need to work on safety and practice. You need companions that do the same.
I have paddled with some people only once. because they are reckless.
That can get you killed.

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great little movie. a similar movie could easily exist for ocean kayaking, cold water, and other dangerous-but-doable situations assuming proper gear and skill.

A good reminder before cold water season.

Think about the worst case scenario and have a plan for it, in any situation in life.

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Very nice. Thank you.