What I Learned Running the Shuttle

The shuttle is a fundamental part of paddling. Not only does it get you from the put-in to the take-out and back, but on many trips it is also your first opportunity to meet your fellow paddlers. Shuttles are known for piles of boats on the roofs of cars and “hero tales" – epic stories of the great runs and even greater wipe-outs of the past. More importantly, though, the shuttle is your first opportunity to meet the paddlers who will become your teammates for the rest of the trip.

Like many other types of outdoor adventures, most paddling trips follow the common adventure model. Under the common adventure model, the group works together as a team to get everyone safely through the trip, but everyone is still responsible for themselves. It is expected that paddlers who join the trip will have the skills and equipment necessary to successfully complete the run.

The shuttle is your first opportunity to screen fellow paddlers and take stock of the group – do we have the skills and equipment that we need, and can I be a productive member of the team. Each member of the group makes a first impression that will be validated on the water. As the trips get more difficult the screening gets more intense.

Paddling is both an individual and a group sport - individual since everyone does the trip in their own boat, but group since we travel as a team, waiting for each member to complete challenging features before moving on. There is an implicit agreement that everyone will work together to keep each other safe.

In some cases, the big talk from the shuttle is followed by amazing paddling on the water. Other times it is not. Often the best paddlers were the quietest on the shuttle – they let their paddling speak for itself. In the event of a swim, the group responds by getting the swimmer to safety and potentially chasing down a run-way boat. Paddling with someone in over their head can be a frustrating and perhaps dangerous experience, but once on the water we are all in it together.

So don’t be shy – tell your story. The shuttle is an opportunity for you to meet your fellow paddlers, and for the group to start forming a cohesive team that can function on the water. Besides, it’s fun to listen to the “hero” stories.


I often write things like this for use in our club newsletter – sometime they go in sometimes they don’t. This one seemed to relate to some the the safety threads that we have going. I know there are a lot of “lone wolf” paddlers here, but those of you paddling group trips is this the way it works. There may not be shuttles on sea kayak trips, but I’ll be the process is the same.


There are some people that don’t understand how a shuttle works, at least not initially. I don’t do group paddles anymore but it can be entertaining.

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I never paddle with people I don’t know. They can’t be depended upon in a rescue. I have paddled with some people only once.

The Upper Missouri R trip from Ft Benton to Kipp Bridge is 151 miles but the shuttle took 8 hours.

For those who don’t know, the shuttle is the process of staging boats and cars in the right places when the trip starts and ends at a different location. Unusually, everyone drives to the put-in to drop their boats, then everyone drives to the take-out, and then everyone piles into as few cars as possible for the trip back to the put-in. After the trip, etiquette is to drive the folks with cars at the put-in back to their cars right away – even before you pack up your own gear. No one wants to be standing around waiting for a ride. You can also do it starting at the take-out.

Milling around waiting for the shuttle to start, packed into the car for the ride back - it’s a great opportunity to catch up with friends or meet someone new.

I do a lot of group trips. I usually don’t know everyone on the trip, but it would be rare for me not to know someone. When I’m paddling with a group that doesn’t know me (especially whitewater), its pretty typical to get questions like “you done this trip before” and “where else have you paddled” - part ice breaker, part screening questions. :wink:


We jest (but only sort of jest) that “Shuttle is not taught at the Undergraduate Level”.

Sometimes it’s like that old story of the farmer trying to get a fox, a goose, and a bag of grain across a river when he/she could only take two across at a time.


Right now shuttling with an rv, all about the parking, big groups i say " guys start talking to each other and work out car loads". If you get left its because you aint talkin’ enough.

Sometimes i want to play or practice rolls at the end so i always tell others how to unlock the car so they can get into dry clothes before running back to the put in, folks who have long drives home i try to eliminate them shuttling back to the top. Today i did a commercial shuttle but no other folks- i got the beta (hey diddle diddle stay in the middle) on the river drops. One of the cheapest ones- $20 for camping and the shuttle, devils river in texas the most expensive, $400 for two people for 18 miles of paddling (2 nights). 4 wheel drive required, and they limit groups and group size, and you go through security checkpoint.

In wisconsin i can see why bike shuttles work, in wv not so much. My weirdest shuttle was after a solo run on the kennebec gorge, hitched and road on the back of a small motorcycle. Scared me worse than the rapids. Another weird one was when a buddy had to stop every few minutes to “blow and go” due to a dui. Sometimes i boat short distances and walk back when attaining isnt possible to eliminate shuttling vehicles. I lost the seat bolt on a bike seat for a small folder. Absolute misery in 110 degree heat in garden valley idaho riding a gearless clown bike with a low swinging seat.

Often i recruit others to go to make shuttling easier. Ive been recruited for that reason by others. Three times ive been treed in, unable to get out due to storms. There’s a reason i always carry granola bars, even on short paddles.

I carry a $20 in my lifejacket just in case. Had a real emergency yesterday- used it buy icecream for rhubarb strawberry pie on the way back to camp. Many thanks to all that have shuttled me through the years.

When people like eck try to size me up i have a little fun- have you done this before?, “yes ive ridden in many cars, have you? would you like me to put on my helmet?”


What rivers have you ran? “None i prefer to float down them, running is too difficult.” “There’s only 1 thing you need to know about me. Any swim i take is a big deal.” As you go through the rapids today just say to yourself save tony, save tony…ah shuttle fun,

how many people and rafts can you fit in a ford festiva?, bottoming out and the kids yelling we didnt lose any parts on that one because i insisted on the shortcut, busted oil pan leads to nascar race back to civilization

I rarely self shuttle. Its usually pretty easier to get someone to come along, but then again I am not traveling the country. At my local park and play spot I’ll sometime drop the cart at the bottom and walk back

I am often the one who traveled the furthest for trips, and do appreciate it when when someone recognizes that and makes sure my car is at the take-out. I try to return the favor. As the new guy, I will sometimes volunteer to drive my car back. Usually it works out fine, sometimes not. I’ll remember if I paddle with that group again.

I’ll do commercial shuttles in a second, but there just aren’t a lot of them around. Two rivers that I always take the shuttle are the Dead (ME - I’d get lost on those logging roads) and the West (VT - you can get in 3-4 runs in a day).

One way to guarantee that you won’t be the shuttle driver is to get a small car - Prius is good - and fill it up with paddling gear so there is no room for people. When I started paddling I had a mini van, and was the shuttle driver for every trip. When I replaced it, I got a Pontiac Grand Am so I didn’t always have the obvious shuttle vehicle.

Shuttle etiquette can be a weird thing - especially when you are with people you you don’t know.


I used to paddle and shuttle quite a bit with the NH-AMC white water contingent. Then I fell out of it because I just think it’s hard to coordinate with a bunch of folks, many of whom are pretty far from me. So, I started to paddle class II/III more alone, which I assessed to not be HIGH risk for me (whether my judgement is on/off is another issue). I would go to the Deerfield, leave my boat by the dam, and then drive my car back down to below the GAP. From there, with my PFD on and my paddle in hand, I would hitch hike back up to the dam. Did this also a few times with the Androscoggin run below Pontook, but it’s easier to walk shuttle the section my Errol dam. Anyway, always wondered what the folks who pick me up thought…



Yup - the flip response is like saying don’t worry I got this - and people will take you at your word. Usually I am not the one sizing people up - I am the one getting sized up. I don’t take it personally. I like to know who I am paddling with, and I’d rather they know something about me.

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Agree that it is good to know a little bit about who you are paddling with; having “the talk” is a good thing. If there are newbies i will share the basics- trip length, difficulty, planned stops, also advise them to stay in the middle of the group where the most support is. I might lead them through the first rapid before turning them loose.

So in a given year i will boat with hundreds of different people. At this stage of the game i just dont paddle anywhere that i wouldnt paddle on my own. Many times they want to lead me down the river. I’m fine with that. If im going to push my limits i know who to boat with and i make it clear what my expectations and needs are. Leave your ego at home.

Ww boating alone is a bad idea. I have done my share of it. You shouldn’t do it but it really teaches self reliance but if things go south it becomes much more serious. Pick up boating at the put in is also a mixed bag. One of my favorite trips for a while was the free shuttle on the new river gorge provided by ace ww. meet at 5pm on a wed and on the bus ride chat up the cast of characters. You are essentially on your own. Need to have the river dialed in due to a short window before darkness.

I speak a lot of different languages- rec boating, rafting, ww kayaking, ww canoeing, extended tripping,. I only know a few words of sea kayaking or racing. Just enough to get myself in trouble. Gotta know what you don’t know.

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Floating allows your boat to go the same speed as the current. For moving water the boat needs to go faster or slower than the current in order to control it.

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That sounds good to me. Only place like that around here is up on the Deerfield - Fife Brook for class II/III boaters like me, Dryway for the class III/IV crew. Both are busy enough on summer weekends that you can usually catch a ride from the take-out back to the put-in with someone. On the river you’d be on your own, but you’d probably find someone to paddle with there as well.

@ppine, and the reason a paddle with a large surface area is desireable? As with whitewater, speed is control on flat water as well - speed isn’t just about going fast; the faster you go, the more control you have.

In my limited experience, I found that a mid-sized blade can generate the speed needed on open water. It doesn’t stress joints as much as a large blade, and it doesn’t slip like a small blade. I tried a Werner Little Dipper with an 86 sq in blade, but there’s a diminishing reward in going too low. No matter how fast you paddle, it begins to slip too much because it can’t grab enough water. Similar to being in a climbing gear on a bike and trying to reach cruising speed on flats - you just spin, or like being in too high a gear to start - it kills your knees.

One reason I gave up whitewater is it destroyed our investment (boats with a right angle bend are hard to paddle), the local river was only passable in the spring, and I don’t like to shuttle or find somebody to drop off and pick up.

In the West, shuttles can be hard to find. I have used a shuttle service only once in 60 years of paddling.

One thing that can be learned on a shuttle - and I expect all of the more experienced here do this without much thought but folks who are new to river paddling might not do it - is when dropping off cars at the take out, take a few minutes to go down and have a good look at the landing and note stuff that is identifiable from the river.

Its only happened to me once on a trip led by a friend who knew the waters well and who could well be trusted, but in our hurry to shuttle and get back to the boats and on the water we skipped this step. The parking was back in the trees and a bit of a distance from the water. When we arrived after paddling some distance, and with the sun getting low, we overshot the landing. Though he was looking for it, he missed the landing and led the group into a lake the river flowed through. Since he’d last been there the wild rice had grown enough to hide the take out from view. We had to turn around and do a mile or so upstream. DUH If we’d all gone down and shot a glance at it neither he, nor any of us, would have missed it. It only takes a minute or two to take a look and yet it could have saved us a good bit of upstream paddling.

In this case, the only one that’s ever happened to me, it wasn’t a real big deal. It is something to be learned while shuttling that is worth mentioning to for those new to river paddling though.


Yes. Identify the take out. When they are over grown they can be hard to find and hard recognize.

If the take out is on a creek in a large swamp, mark it with your GPS. Even with that it took us some exploring to find one on the Edisto


We had a guy paddle by the take out on the river that you really couldn’t paddle back upstream. No phone so there was no way to contact him. Eventually he came to a dam, so he knew he had gone too far. He pulled his boat out, got directions from a nearby gas station and walked back to the put in. We waited for him - wasn’t much else we could do…