Photo credits to http://EasternSlopes.com
Classes, research, and technique practice:
There are many methods to re-enter your swamped kayak with no assist if the unexpected capsize arises. If you spend time in a kayak, learning a couple options is valuable knowledge to have. Taking a class is time well spent if you have classes available to you with most classes happening at annual early spring Paddle Expos, Fests or winter pool sessions. Another option is to conduct some YouTube research, then practice your new knowledge. New techniques and videos are surfacing each year showing several variations of the one person side re-entry and the back scramble along with the two person rescue.
Spend some time acquainting yourself with the assorted techniques. Then, go rent a pool for a couple of hours or if the water is warm enough to avoid hypothermia, go with friends to a small lake (with permission, if needed) to provide you the practice you need to learn the skill.
Remember to have one to two people in support kayaks that can help assist if you need some help during your practice. Staying close to shore in water just over your head is best. Wear your PFD and zip up and tighten all the straps so if someone pulls on it, it can not go over your head.
Self-rescue requires some gear:
Common side re-entry techniques require the use of a “paddle float” with two options available; the inflatable type or fully padded option. Either can be used as an outrigger when strapped to your paddle end, then placed under your coaming on your kayak, near your seat. The padded type does not require inflation and can assist quicker if hypothermia or busy speed boat activity makes minutes count for re-entry. Climbing onto, then up your paddle float applied paddle shaft for support, works easily, especially if the water is not rough. Climb onto your kayak cockpit facing backward with your belly facing down, then corkscrew yourself around, keeping your balance to right yourself. Remove water by baling or bilging is the final step. Keeping the paddle float on a bit longer will help until you empty the water out.
For added success in climbing back in your cockpit, having a “stirrup” can aid your ability to re-enter quickly. Especially if your are not strong, agile or are overweight. It can be as simple as getting a clothes line or nylon rope, measuring for the circumference of your cockpit size, then add about four more feet so the rope extends just under your kayak so you can use it to step on. The kayak stirrup can be purchased inexpensively from suppliers.
A “bilge pump” is also an important asset to remove water quickly once you re-enter. Having some type of “baler” can be a huge time saver when it counts, especially for those one hull kayaks. A gallon milk jug with the lid on, then cut in half is a free option.
The “Cowboy” back scramble method is climbing onto the stern from either side, then staying low for balance and scrambling slowly toward your cockpit with legs extended out on either side for balance. Staying low is key. Then let your bottom drop into your seat once you get past your cockpit.
A two-person “t-rescue” is a much easier undertaking. Remove water by placing your filled boat upside down over the bow just above their cockpit to drain. Then have them come parallel along your boat,as they hold your boat firmly, almost laying on it, just above the cockpit as you climb in. Having the outrigger with your paddle and paddle float attached is helpful.
Practice with your personal kayak:
It is wise to practice with each person’s own kayak and the gear. When you know how your kayak handles being filled with water, you gain new perspectives on your and your boats abilities on the water in case of unexpected capsize. A two hull boat will be much easier to re-enter due to the increased flotation. One hull boat’s flotation is limited, but re-entry can be done, but it is most important to get most of the water out before you try to re-enter.
Let me know how your research and practice goes at email@example.com
The new interactive paddling map displays any major river hazards the Iowa DNR knows or learns about. A major river hazard is typically one that requires walking your boat around (portaging) the obstruction. These could be river wide log jams, bridge construction projects where a coffer dam was built, or debris or hazardous materials in the water, etc. So before you go paddling this season be sure to check the map at http://www.iowadnr.gov/paddlingmap.
Realize, too, that major hazards can pop up anywhere without us knowing. In fact, most hazards we learn about come from paddlers who first encountered them. This map does not account for common or general hazards, and it’s always important to scout or be vigilant when paddling anywhere.
New Report of a River-wide Logjam on Upper Iowa
Just recently an Iowa paddler reported a river-wide logjam on the Upper Iowa River while paddling upstream of Kendallville. He described it well and explained how difficult it was to portage around it. It was located right around a bend in the river so he and his friends had very little time to respond. A couple of his friends were pulled under by the strainer, but managed to make it out okay. He also included a photo and Lat/Long coordinates. This was very helpful, as
I was able to quickly add the hazard to the map in less than 5 minutes.
Our default view or map extent shows dams in red squares and other major hazards in orange diamonds with white exclamation points.
Default View of DNR Interactive Paddling Map. Red circle and arrow shows location of river wide log jam on Upper Iowa River.
In order to learn more about the Upper Iowa River hazard, you can zoom in and click on the hazard icon:
Green Mill Ford Bridge Collapse
Earlier this year an historic bridge, the Green Mill Ford Bridge on the Cedar River (upstream of Janesville), washed out and remnants of the bridge created a number of hazards downstream for boaters. Debris from the bridge’s steel spans punctured a motor boat, and parts of the bridge have acted as strainers and obstacles in different areas. The emergency
management coordinator reached out to us and gave updated reports on the location of the debris, which we added to the interactive map. Try using the interactive paddling map on your own to locate those hazards on the Cedar River in Black Hawk County and review the photos and information for each location.
Cedar River upstream of Janesville in Black Hawk County
If you encounter a dangerous hazard, such as a river wide log jam, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to provide a detailed description of the hazard, the difficulty in avoiding or portaging around it. Also include photos and
location coordinates (latitude/longitude, UTM, etc).
If you’re new to using the interactive map, you can download instructions on how to use it here:
http://www.iowadnr/paddlingmap. Click on “Interactive Paddling Map – How To”—as shown below.
The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”
How did this captain know – from fifty feet away – what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew know what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.
The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening. Drowning does not look like drowning – Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine, described the instinctive drowning response like this:
Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.
Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.
Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.
Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.
(Source: On Scene Magazine: Fall 2006 (page 14))
This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble – they are experiencing aquatic distress. Not always present before the instinctive drowning response, aquatic distress doesn’t last long – but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.
Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:
- Head low in the water, mouth at water level
- Head tilted back with mouth open
- Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
- Eyes closed
- Hair over forehead or eyes
- Not using legs – Vertical
- Hyperventilating or gasping
- Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
- Trying to roll over on the back
- Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder.
So if a crew member falls overboard and everything looks OK – don’t be too sure. Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck. One way to be sure? Ask them, “Are you alright?” If they can answer at all – they probably are. If they return a blank stare, you may have less than 30 seconds to get to them. And parents – children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why.
Article author credits to: Mario Vittone:
This work has been released into the public domain by the copyright holder. This applies worldwide. The copyright holder grants any entity the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.
Yes, we all get the “spring fidgets”. It was such a long and brutal winter and some of the coolness continues to hang on. Since it will be a few weeks before water temps get to a safe level, this is a good time to review a few safety tips from the Iowa DNR. There are paddlers out now but thankfully most are wearing proper clothing including wetsuits when needed and many of them are seasoned paddlers with decent boat control skills. Let this review be not only for them, but more importantly, for all of the newer paddlers that come on board every year after discovering the beauty and abundance of places to paddle in Iowa. Paddling is an inherently dangerous activity but can be much safer by following simple guidelines.
1. Before you head out on the water for your first trip of the year, make sure you check your canoe or kayak for any needed repairs or maintenance after being stored for several months. Check for holes and leaks, make sure all hatch lids fit snug and securely and check your paddle blades for signs of cracking or splitting.
2. Dust off your lifejacket and make sure all buckles and zippers work properly and examine for holes and tears. If there is damage that cannot be repaired, replace the lifejacket. Wearing a lifejacket will only protect you if worn and secured properly. A lifejacket should be worn at all times while on the water, regardless of your swimming ability. Remember, it is law that you have a lifejacket in your kayak or canoe or even on your paddleboard at ALL times. You can be cited for this. That said, if it is not worn, what good is it really going to do? If using it as a butt cushion, think again. If stowing it under deck rigging or behind the seat, you might want to re-evaluate. The life jacket will NOT be there when you need it. It will be flying down river with the rest of your unsecured items. Wear the life jacket. If not for you, maybe for your family.
3. Water temperatures are still cool and with water and air still colder on several days, there has been little opportunity of water warming up much. It could be several weeks before that ideal temperature is in place. Do NOT wear cotton. As the water heats up over the next several weeks, you’ll be able to adjust your clothing needs. Regardless of weather, always take a dry bag with a set of extra clothes for changing into. You can include a first-aid kit and a protected cell phone or weather radio. Remember, dress for water immersion not the air temperature. Don’t forget to take plenty of water and stay hydrated. Paddling can be physically demanding at times so stretching before entering your boat can help prevent injuries.
4. Be sure to file a “float plan” with a friend or loved one. This plan is as simple as telling someone when and where you are going and when you are expected to return. Should you need assistance, it will be easier to find you.
5. A word about HAZARDS: Be very aware of changing conditions while on the water, especially while paddling our many rivers. After snowmelt and heavy rains, water levels can rise quickly and produce strong and fast current. “Strainers” are numerous on most rivers, especially after high water events. A “strainer” can be a pile of tree limbs and debris, usually found on the outside of river bends where they continue to collect and pile up. The rivers current can take you directly towards the deadly “strainer” and without proper boat control skills; a paddler can be sucked in and held underwater with little chance of escape. A “sweeper” is found above the water’s surface and can be a tree that is ready to fall into the river. Hanging tree limbs can knock a paddler out of their boat or even grab them by the lifejacket or clothing and not let go.
Always be aware of where low head dams are on the river you are paddling. Watch for warning signs as well as signs telling you where and when to get off the river and portage. Put back in well downstream of the low head dam. The hydraulics of the dam will not let you escape as the turbulence of the water will be strong enough to keep pulling a person and their boat under the water over and over again. NEVER go over a low head dam. They are called drowning machines for a reason.
As the summer arrives, you will encounter more water traffic especially on the larger rivers and lakes. Jet skis, motorboats, water skiers and anglers can all be found on water when the weather is nice and you’ll have to follow proper navigation laws and practice good behavior and river etiquette. Give everyone plenty of room and use manners. If a “wake” is approaching your boat, remember to point the front of your boat into the wave and not get sideways. This will prevent your boat from tipping when the wave strikes.
Finally, you can review reported real-time hazards by visiting the paddler’s interactive map on the Iowa DNR website: Interactive Paddling Map This can also be used for all things related to trip planning. Check it out and explore the tools! It can also be found at
Fishing boaters and paddlers should use extreme caution if navigating the Cedar River between Waverly and Janesville, where ice jams destroyed the Green Mill Ford Bridge in mid-March.
The remaining debris has traveled down river and clearing it could take some time, according to the Bremer County Emergency Management System. Temporary buoys have been placed on the river and signs mark areas to avoid. Most of the bridge deck has been located, with some sections found nearly two miles downstream from where the bridge once stood. Steel and bridge pilings are also visible.
On April 5, two anglers in a fishing boat struck some debris that punctured the boat and caused it to leak. Todd Robertson, Iowa DNR River Programs outreach coordinator, said the anglers were fortunate to get the boat to shore safely.
“But results can be tragic if boaters, regardless of their swimming skills and experience, get caught in the debris after being thrown into the water,” Robertson said.
Strong current, combined with the debris stretching from the old bridge site downstream up to a few miles, will require strong boat control and navigation skills to safely get through this area of the Cedar River.
Media Contact: Todd Robertson, Iowa DNR River Programs Outreach Coordinator at 515-243-3714.
Manually Powered Vessels When Underway:
(Manually powered vessels are boats that are paddled, poled, or rowed)
- If less than 23.0 feet long, these vessels should exhibit a white light visible for 360° around the horizon and visible from a distance of at least one mile away if operating on natural lakes, Corps of Engineers impoundments, border rivers, or impoundments on inland rivers.
- If this light is partially obscured due to the nature of the vessel, an additional white light must be on hand to be shown in sufficient time to prevent a collision.
- Regardless of length, these vessels must have on board a white light to be used when necessary between sunset and sunrise when operated on bodies of water other than those listed above.
- To prevent a collision, vessel operators should never leave shore without a flashlight. Even if you plan to return before dark, unforeseen developments might delay your return past nightfall.
All Vessels When Not Underway:
- All vessels are required to display a white light visible for 360° around the horizon whenever they are moored or anchored outside a designated mooring area between sunset and sunrise.
- All vessels must have at least one USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD (life jacket) for each person on board.
- In addition to the above requirement, one Type IV (throwable) USCG-approved PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer, except canoes or kayaks.
- All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition.
- All PFDs must be readily accessible and of the proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.
- While underway on a recreational vessel on any Iowa waters, a child under 13 years old must wear a USCG-approved life jacket unless the child is below deck or in an enclosed cabin.
- Each person being towed behind a vessel on water skis, a surfboard, or similar device must wear a USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD. Inflatable PFDs are not approved for persons being towed.
- Each person on board a personal watercraft (PWC) must wear a USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD. Inflatable PFDs are not approved for use on PWCs.
- Windsurfers are not required to wear a life jacket.
- Inflatable life jackets are not approved for use by persons under the age of 16.
Read and follow the label restrictions on all PFDs
For more info: http://publications.iowa.gov/15950/1/ia_handbook_entire.pdf
As Iowans start to thaw out from a brutal winter, paddlers and other boaters are itching to hit the water. While some river levels have dropped, others remain high and unsafe.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends that paddlers wait for warmer weather to let the water temperatures rise slowly. It could be several weeks before water temperatures are ideal and safe.
“Regardless of how warm the air may feel in first weeks of spring, the water is still dangerously cold and can be deadly to boaters,” said Todd Robertson, Iowa DNR River Programs Water Trails coordinator. “Cold water shock and hypothermia can set in fast if you are not dressed for cold water immersion. “
After snowmelt and heavy rains, water levels can rise quickly and produce strong and fast current. “Strainers” are numerous on most rivers, especially after high water events. A “strainer” can be a pile of tree limbs and debris, usually found on the outside of river bends where they continue to collect and pile up. The river’s current can suck you under a deadly “strainer” and hold you underwater with little chance of escape.
Review these simple safety tips before you head out on the water.
- Check your canoe or kayak for any needed repairs or maintenance after being stored for several months. Look for holes and leaks, make sure all hatch lids fit snug and securely and check your paddle blades for signs of cracking or splitting.
- Dust off your life jacket and make sure all buckles and zippers work properly and look for holes and tears. Replace the life jacket if it has damage that cannot be repaired. Wear a life jacket at all times while on the water, regardless of your swimming ability. “We encourage all boaters to wear their lifejackets and not just store them on board. When you need it, it won’t be there,” said Robertson. “Put the lifejacket on, if not for you, for the ones you love.”
- If paddling in colder conditions, wear a wetsuit or dry suit, along with layers, to help avoid hypothermia or cold water shock. Do not wear cotton. Dress for water immersion, not the air temperature. You can adjust your clothing needs as the water heats up over the next several weeks.
- Always bring along a dry bag with a set of extra clothes you can change into if you get wet, a first-aid kit and a protected cell phone or weather radio. Pack plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Let a friend or loved one know where you are going and when you are expected to return. It will be easier to find you if you need help.
Explore the Iowa DNR’s interactive paddling map at https://www.iowadnr.gov/Things-to-Do/Canoeing-Kayaking/Where-to-Paddle to help you plan your first paddling trip this year.
Sure. You may be delighted those frigid temperatures are a thing of the past. But in a wet year, the low temperatures from January through March kept water levels low enough in rivers around Iowa to get contractors moving on dam removal and mitigation projects statewide. These projects were each years in the making, and the latest wave of them will change how Iowans recreate and navigate. Here’s a run-down:
This project replaces the River Valley Park Dam with a divided channel, half for whitewater waves and half for fishing and fish passage. It also preserves the dams water supply function.
Fort Dodge (2 dams)
Little Dam (also called Lower Dam) was removed in February, completing the project. Paddlers can safety float from the Phinney Park Access on Lizard Creek down to Dolliver State Park unimpeded, and fish can move freely as needed as far upriver to the remaining portion of Hydroelectric Dam. A rocky bed was uncovered in this area.
Hydroelectric Dam, formerly a 16-high dam, is removed down to a few feet high through summer, when it is expected to be completely removed. The removal is staged into 2 steps in order to prevent all sediment in the impoundment from being released at the same time. HOWEVER, recirculating currents will continue to be a safety hazard remaining portion of the dam until the dam is fully removed because the dam’s height will still be about 5 feet. All boaters should avoid the stretch between the Hydroelectric Park Access and mouth of Lizard Creek until the rest of the dam can be removed – most likely later this summer.
Speaking of that first stage of removal, check out this time lapse video:
Quaker Mill Dam
Phase 2 of the project was completed this winter and the Maquoketa River takes a meandering course through the former bed of the Quaker Mill Pond.
The Littleton Dam on the Wapsipinicon River is completely removed. High water after ice-out prevented completion of the rock arch rapids that will take the place of the dam, and contractors will resume work after flows are reasonable for work to be done.