Category Archives: Safety

Keeping Your Canoe Upright

One goal of an enjoyable canoe trip is keeping you and your gear dry. That means keeping your canoe upright. Here are some easy tips on how.

One tip a canoe paddler can do is kneel down in the canoe. If you’ve sat in the seat all of your canoeing life, you’ll immediately notice how much more stable the canoe is when you kneel down.

Spread your knees so they touch the area where the sides and floor of the canoe meet. Now rest your rear on front of the seat. It’s that easy. No need to kneel the whole trip, but it’s a good idea when going through rough water.

Don’t want to kneel on those tender, bare knees? Wear knee pads, the kind volleyball players wear. Or, toss a thin closed-cell pad on the floor of the canoe in front of you. If you find kneeling to your liking, you may want to glue the pad permanently to the floor of the canoe.

Canoes sometimes flip when paddlers get into their boats. No worries when you use this technique: Stand beside the canoe. Now place one hand on the left gunwale and one on the right gunwale, so you have a steady hand-hold on both gunwales. Now, place one foot on the floor of the canoe. Here you’ve got three points of contact with the boat. Now shove off with your other foot that’s on shore, then sit or kneel down.

On a river in a canoe or kayak, most obstacles that are going to cause trouble are located on the outside of bends in the stream. Going into a bend, keep to the inside of the bend because the current is naturally going to push you to the outside.

It’s easy to get distracted chit-chatting your way downstream, enjoying the scenery and wildlife. Pay attention to what’s downriver. If you see a rock or tree ahead, plan far in advance how you’re going to avoid it. Don’t wait until you’re 10 yards upstream from trouble to plan your moves.

Most importantly, wear your life jacket so you’ll live to enjoy a lifetime of river adventures.

Article courtesy of Guest Author Flip Putthoff

Dams, Then and Now!

Littleton Dam and Mill, 1800’s.  Wapsipinicon River, Buchanan County 
Photo Credits to Robert Ungs 


Dams have had their place in Iowa history. Originally built out of timbered wood, they were used to power various mills such as flour, gristmills and sawmills. Their power was later harnessed for hydro-electric needs and timber was replaced with concrete structures.

Most dams have seen their value depleted and a need for removal due to age, human safety and are a barrier for fish reproduction and do create a decline in vulnerable mussel species.
Some municipal water supplies are assisted by dams as well as some recreational pools. By and large however, dams have served their purposes long ago and rivers can be set free to their original wild and natural ways.


Littleton Dam removal:  winter, 2019. Photo Credits to Iowa DNR 

Littleton Dam:  summer, 2019. Conversion, currently in process. 
Photo Credits to Pam Wolter 

Big Lakes, Big Water, Big Wind, Big Waves

Article by John Pearson, Iowa DNR 

Photo by Pam Wolter 

Paddling on big lakes can be immensely rewarding for their access to beautiful, expansive landscapes and intimate viewing of new suites of wildlife, but it needs to be done with full respect for the power of wind and waves that are unique to big water.   Many paddlers first learn their boat-handling skills on rivers and creeks where currents, rapids, strainers, and sweepers are the main features and hazards with which to be reckoned.   With the glaring exception of paddling laboriously downstream against an upstream headwind, wind is not typically a big issue on rivers, tucked away as they often are in narrow, wind-buffered valley bottoms protected by tree-lined banks and bluffs.  Venturing out onto the open, exposed waters of big lakes, however, presents a new set of hazards with wind being chief among them.  River paddlers who wish to explore the beauty of big lakes need to be aware of the special challenges of wind and waves that are likely to be new to them.  Let’s explore how to do that!

Iowa’s big lakes include the flood-control reservoirs of Red Rock, Rathbun, Saylorville, and Coralville, the navigation pools of the Mississippi River, and large natural lakes such as Spirit Lake, West Okoboji Lake, Storm Lake, and Clear Lake in northern and northwest Iowa.  How big is big?  Lake Red Rock leads the list with 15,000 acres at normal pool, swelling to 70,000 acres during periods of high water; it is informally known as “Iowa’s inland sea” and can feature dangerously sea-like conditions of big waves and crashing surf.  Rathbun Lake is a close second with 11,000 acres at normal pool and 21,000 acres at flood pool.  More important than the mere acreage of a lake is its “fetch” – the distance that wind can travel unimpeded by topographic blockage or tall vegetation.  The longer the fetch, the greater its potential to generate big waves.  At flood pool, Lake Red Rock presents over 25 miles of open water to winds sweeping in from the northwest.  By the time waves reach the southeast end of the lake, they have been building in size and strength for many miles.  Even the “smallest” lakes listed above – Clear Lake (3600 acres) and Storm Lake (3400 acres) – are several miles in diameter and can build to sea-like conditions under strong winds.  I have personally witnessed waves several feet in height pushed across Lake Red Rock and smashing onto its rocky shoreline on windy days when even the most skilled, intrepid, and dare-devilish kayakers choose to watch the spectacle safely from shore!

Almost needless to say, beginning paddlers and paddlers experienced only on rivers and small, quiet lakes and ponds should not venture out into the dangerous conditions of big winds and big waves on big lakes.  I say “almost” needless because all too often paddlers newly venturing onto big lakes find themselves in conditions beyond their comfort level and boat-handling skills.  Sometimes this can be due to false confidence (“I can handle this”), but often it is the case that new paddlers set off in conditions that are initially benign but unexpectedly change into something more dangerous.  Here are ways to avoid that pitfall and to enjoy a safe and rewarding outing:

Use a boat designed for the conditions you will encounter – Different boats are designed for different uses.  While open canoes can safely traverse calm water, they can swamp in big waves; they should be used only in calm conditions near shore.  Although having a closed deck to shed overwashing waves, recreational kayaks (with unpartitioned hulls) can also completely fill with water upon capsizing; like canoes, they should be used only near shore where paddlers can easily swim to safety after capsizing.  Sea kayaks, partitioned with front and rear bulkheads, are the boats best suited for paddling on big lakes because their closed decks shed overwashing waves, remain afloat after capsizes, and can be rescued without going ashore.  Given that conditions may change during the course of a trip from calm to rough and that paddlers may wander from near shore to far from shore, sea kayaks are the most versatile vessel for paddling on big lakes.  However, sea kayaks can be expensive, so paddlers may opt to use more affordable recreational kayaks or canoes.… which is fine, just be sure to use them only for the calm, near-shore environment for which they were designed!

Know your comfort level with wind speed – Always check the weather report before a trip and pay particular attention to current and predicted wind speed and direction.  Weather reports on commercial radio and television do not consistently provide this level of detail, so be sure to consult a source that does, such as the National Weather Service (NWS) broadcast on a dedicated weather radio or viewed on a website with hourly predictions.  Critical thresholds for wind are:

·         0-5 MPH – Flat water easy for any skill level

·         5-10 MPH – Beginners feel uneasy with small waves

·         10-15 MPH – Waves begin to build, beginners experience difficulty with boat handling

·         15-20 MPH – Wind and waves are an issue even for experienced paddlers

·         >20 MPH – These are strong winds with big waves, only skilled paddlers should be out

Pay attention to whether winds are predicted to increase later in the day.  Just because conditions are calm when you launch in the morning will not guarantee that they will not be rough in the afternoon when you are returning.  If you are comfortable only in wind less than 10 MPH but the wind is predicted to rise above 15 MPH, be sure to return well before the increase sets in (which may arrive sooner than predicted)!

Be aware of wind direction – Launch ramps are often located in protected bays where the effect of wind and waves are not pronounced, but paddling out of the bay into the open lake can expose paddlers to winds of unexpected strength from an unexpected direction.  Again, listen to a detailed weather report and link that information to the layout of the shoreline you will be following.  At Lake Red Rock, paddlers often launch from the ramp just east of Hwy 14 on the south shore.  When the wind is from the southeast, paddling northeastward along the shoreline will be in calm water protected from the wind by a high upland… until you reach Elk Rock Point, where the shoreline veers to the southeast and you will be confronted with a headwind.  If you are simply following the shoreline without paying attention to its  change in direction, you may find yourself suddenly committed to much rougher water than you expected or can handle.  Always anticipate a change in conditions as you “round a corner” and reassess if you (and everyone in your party) are able and comfortable with continuing.

Another hazard related to wind direction is when waves are blown onto cliffs, resulting in rebounding waves interacting with incoming waves to create a highly turbulent zone known as clapotis… or less formally as “washing machine waves”.  Coming from two directions, waves in this zone are wild and chaotic with crests and troughs often doubled in height and depth.  Capsizing is a real hazard here, combined with the threat of being pummeled against rock cliffs!  Although ominous, clapotis is usually localized at the base of cliffs can be easily avoided by paddling a route around and away from the rough zone.

Become skilled for paddling in rough water – Despite good intentions to paddle only in benign weather, new paddlers may unexpectedly get caught in rough conditions.  Be prepared for that inevitability by learning a full complement of basic strokes, braces, and rescue techniques:

·         Forward strokes, reverse strokes, sweep strokes, pinweeds, draws, and rudders – these will help you maneuver your boat to avoid trouble spots and to paddle out of them if you get caught.

·         Low brace, high brace, and sculling for support can prevent you from capsizing if you lose your balance.

·         Scramble rescue, paddle float rescue, and partner rescues will enable you to recover from capsizing with or without assistance.

The best way to learn these skills is to take lessons from trained instructors.  Yes, there is a cost associated with training, both in time and dollars.  Your skill level and safety are worth it!

Use good judgment – Big lakes are more variable than the small lakes and rivers you have likely experienced, more exposed to wind and their accompanying waves.  Watch the weather and be prepared to alter your original plan in the face of changing conditions.  Know your strengths, weaknesses, and limitations and always stay within your skill level… while raising that level for future outings through training and practice.  Be smart, be safe, and enjoy the beauty and challenges of Iowa’s big lakes!


Tubers and Strainers: Beware!

Tubers and strainers are becoming a concern on the rivers in Iowa. Tubing is becoming a popular recreational activity. Quite often the first -time tuber or new river user is not knowledgeable about the risks they take upon themselves when they innocently choose to enjoy a day on the river with friends, floating with a cooler and catching some rays.

Education is the key to those demographic users.   How do we educate those users on the dangers of rivers and teach them about river reading, eddy rests, life jacket safety, water hydraulics, CFS (cubic feet per second) or the dangers of strainers that lurk around many outside bends of a river?  If you add alcoholic beverages into the mix, tuber safety is compromised even before a potential strainer happens.

The nature of a river is for the current to be in charge of the direction that it wants to go and will take you along for the ride.  Just adding two safety features to a tuber’s recreational day will ensure some measure of safety. By wearing a snug fitting life jacket and using a short paddle or one end of a kayak paddle, both can assist the tuber in having more control of the direction they float and can offer some drowning protection.

This should enable them to avoid strainers and if they should be removed from their tube or spring a leak, they will have a bit more control and safety.   Education about staying on the inside of a bend can be helpful too.  Can we also educate about not littering those empty cans?

Heavy Rainfall Causes Multiple Wastewater and Manure Releases

Following heavy rainfall and flash flooding throughout much of Iowa, the DNR encourages Iowans to stay out of Iowa streams until after the waters recede.

While fast stream currents are the biggest risk for people, high waters can also carry dangerous debris and bacteria. “For their own safety, we encourage people to stay out of the water until several days after streams return to normal,” said Scott Wilson in the DNR’s Spencer field office.

“About 70 wastewater discharges have been reported over the Memorial Day weekend, and the calls are still coming in,” Wilson said. With more rain predicted, additional discharges are expected.

“Some cities have reported multiple wastewater discharges, and two have reported storm water backups into basements,” he added. Both the Iowa DNR and the Department of Public Health have helpful links for people dealing with disasters and flood cleanup.

Some livestock facilities, particularly in northwest Iowa, have had two to four or more inches of rain. “Most of these facilities are OK, but we are working with a few to stop runoff,” Wilson said.

Facilities that are discharging or expecting to discharge should contact their local DNR field office. “We’ll work with them to identify solutions and minimize impacts to nearby streams,” Wilson said.

After hours, facilities can call the DNR emergency spill line at 515-725-8694. The DNR website has more information about spill reporting requirements.

For the Iowa DNR article go to:

Dam Safety Message by Iowa DNR

Paddling season has arrived and with it all the hazards that we need to watch out for. Low head dams are “drowning machines” and they are called that for a reason. Check out this Iowa DNR Facebook Live special for everything you need to know!

This is a great video experiment from right at the top of Iowa’s deadliest low head dam, the Center Street dam in Des Moines, Iowa.

Be safe this paddling season and without a doubt, stay away from low head dams on rivers!

I’ve Swamped and I Can’t Roll, Now What? Kayak Re-entry

Photo Credits Courtesy of

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.

Water removal:
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


Check the Iowa DNR Interactive Map Before You Go!

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
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:

Click on the photo link “IMG_0012.JPG “under the heading “Attachments” to view the photo(s):

You can also change the basemap from topographic to aerial photo view:

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 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.

Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning

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.

Paddling Safety Reminders


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