Whitewater paddling is a dangerous and potentially fatal sport. This document is meant to familiarize the reader with the sport, and could never replace proper training and caution. Proper instruction is strongly <repeat> strongly recommended for anyone considering taking up paddling. This article is provided as is without any express or implied warranties. While every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this article, the maintainer assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.
Get educated, get equipped, get trained, and THEN get on the river.
It's more fun for you and better for you and everyone around you. ~ The following topics are addressed:
1) Why does this FAQ exist?
2) What is whitewater?
2.1) What is an eddy?
2.2) What is a wave?
2.3) What is a hole?
2.4) What other features will I see on a river?
3) What are the dangers of whitewater paddling?
3.1) How to swim in whitewater
3.2) Foot entrapment
3.8) Man-made Dangers
3.9) Whitewater Safety and Rescue Resources
4) Why would anyone paddle whitewater?
4.1) River running
4.2) Rapid running
4.3) Surfing and playing
4.3.1) Front/Back Surf
4.3.2) Side Surf
.4.3.4) Squirting 4.3.5) Advanced moves
5) What types of boats are appropriate for whitewater?
5.1.1) Creek Boats
5.1.2) Play Boats
5.1.3) Squirt Boats ~
5.1.4) Tandem Kayaks ~
5.1.5) Inflatable Kayaks
5.1.6) Sit-an-Top Kayaks
5.2.1) C1 (I-person closed canoe)
5.2.2) OC1 (I-person open canoe) ,
5.2.3) OC2 or Tandem Canoe (2-person open canoe)
5.2.4) Inflatable Canoes
5.3.1) Paddle Rafts
5.3.2) Oar Rafts
6) What other equipment is necessary or useful?
6.1) Clothing/ [Wet/Dry] Suits
6.5) Throw Rope
7) What about... (actual FAQs)
7.2) Nose clips
7.3) On-side versus Off-side roll
7.4) Where can I find info to learn how to roll?
7.5) Why do some people call a Kayak a Canoe?
7.6) What is boat outfitting? How do I do it?
7.7) Which boat should I buy?
7.8) How can I ship a boat cheaply?
7.9) Can I fly with my kayak?
7.10) Where can I find river levels online?
7.11) What is 303, and can I use Armorall instead?
7.12) Who has right of way? River and Ocean surfing etiquette
7.13) Where do I keep my beer/wine/liquor?
- Why does this FAQ exist?
boats.paddle has a high volume of traffic pertaining to whitewater paddling. When I started reading it a few years ago, I looked far and wide for a whitewater FAQ and didn't find one. After almost three years on the newsgroup, I decided that enough questions repeated to make a FAQ worthwhile. Also, I'd like to hope this FAQ helps people whet their interest for whitewater paddling, because it is a sport that gives me great joy, and I'd love to share that. Technically this is part FAQ and part FUQ --Frequently Unasked Questions. It tries to answer the questions that a newcomer doesn't know or doesn't think to ask, as well as covering issues ~ that come up repeatedly. It doesn't handle some questions that require a master thesis --such as, "Which boat is better, X or Y?"
- What is whitewater?
Whitewater refers to moving bodies of water like rivers, streams, and brooks. The current interacts with the stream bed and river features (rocks, sudden drops, incline or gradient) to form interesting and useful water features like eddies, waves, holes, etc. Because such quick-moving water often becomes bubbly and aerated as it frolics along the river bed, it is referred to as "white" water (the bubbles, of course, turning the water white).
- What is an eddy?
An eddy is formed when fast-moving water rushes past an obstruction, like a rock or a section of riverbank which juts out. The water is pushed past the obstruction by the current, and the space behind the obstruction is not immediately filled with water. As a result, the water slowly works its way behind the obstruction further and further downstream, and then flows upstream to fill the area just behind the obstruction. The eddy is often 1) slower moving water than the current and 2) pushes upstream current rather than downstream. An eddy is useful for two reasons: firstly, it is often a calm spot in the midst of the chaotic river, and as such is a wonderful place for a paddler to stop, get their bearings, take a .drink, and decide what to do next. Secondly, the eddy line (the place where the current pushing downstream meets the eddy water moving upstream) can be used to turn a boat around on half a dime or to attempt squirt moves (more on this later).
- What is a wave?
A wave is a section of water which rises to a peak and then falls down. Everyone is familiar with waves on the ocean, where a bump (the wave) rolls along, eventually crashing onto a beach somewhere. In a river, a wave is formed by moving water being jumbled by an underwater rock or sudden obstacle. A river wave differs from an ocean wave in that the water moves and the wave stays in one spot on the river, while the water stays still and the wave moves along on the ocean.
[The technical description of what forms a wave needs improvement] A river wave can be surfed, just as surfers ride ocean waves. Surfing is the act of balancing a boat on the upstream face of a wave, where the water pushes the boat downstream and gravity pulls the boat forward into the trough of the wave. The boat sits still with respect to the sides of the river, but the water rushes underneath the boat and makes for a dynamic ride!
- What is a hole?
A souse hole, or a hole for short, is a place where the current pushes the water over a rock or other underwater obstacle. Other names for .it include stopper or hydraulic. The water crashes downward after passing the obstacle. If the water crashes down with enough force, it forms a depression on the surface, which the water surrounding the "hole" will rush in to fill, subsequently being forced down by more water crashing down. Put another way, at a hole, water is being forced down toward the stream bed rather than downriver, and does not continue downstream until it is below the surface. Sometimes it surfaces just to be pulled back in again, which is called recirculation. Think of it as a black hole in the current, where the flow is disturbed and counteracted by the obstacle.
[again, description could be improved]
Holes can be dangerous, but they can also be fun, too. They can be dangerous because they can hold on to and recirculate any object (wood, boat or paddler) that falls into them, since the current is temporarily suspended in a hole. Since the water is chaotic, it can be hard to keep your boat upright in a hole (doing so is sometimes called Side Surfing, and is a fun thing to do). The danger a hole represents depends on its size, angle, force, location, and other factors. A simple rule is: If you can't tell a dangerous hole from a fun hole, don't go into any hole.
- What other features will I see on a river?
'Rapids' is an area where swift current meets steep gradient or other stream bed features and forms a set of waves, holes, and eddies. 'Waterfalls' are places where the water free falls for a significant distance before becoming river again. A 'Drop' is the same as a 'Rapid' for some people, more like a very small waterfall for others, and used to describe a sudden gradient change for others.
[These are terms as I see them. I expect I'm open to much correction here; please do so]
Non-water features like strainers and undercuts are discussed in section 3.
- What is an eddy?
- What are the dangers of whitewater paddling?
A good primer to paddling: http://www.acanet.org/PDF/qs-kayak-outline.pdf
Most people don't realize that moving water is dangerous. It is very easy to swim across a pool, but if you have current pushing you along, rocks and strainers coming up, and waves and holes to throw you around, it gets a little harder. I don't want to scare anybody, but understanding the dangers of whitewater is the most important thing a paddler can learn. See the disclaimer at the top of this posting, if you haven't already.Responsible paddling means not paddling alone (three boats is a good rule of thumb I've heard), paddling with proper and reliable equipment, and using your best judgment to avoid rivers and rapids which are beyond your skill level. A solid roll is important for whitewater paddling, as well. These are ways of mitigating the dangers of whitewater paddling.
- How to swim in whitewater
Walbridge and Sundmacher, in "Whitewater Rescue Manual," separate swimming into two categories: defensive swimming and aggressive swimming. Defensive swimming entails floating on your back, feet downriver, using your arms for minimal course correction and waiting until an opportunity to attain an eddy or other form of safety arises. This is especially good in water which is shallow or rocky enough to bump the swimmer, but too swift for standing, because if you're going to scrape over a rock better to do it with your well-padded buttocks. Keeping your feet downstream allows you to push off rocks instead of butting heads with them. If you're swimming next to your boat, make sure the boat is also downstream of your body, because if you get pinned between your boat and a rock, you can get seriously hurt or killed.Aggressive swimming entails expending energy as you actively swim, usually toward an eddy, raft, throw line, or other form of safety. If the water is deep enough, rolling over onto your stomach will allow a stronger stroke. Swimming pointed upstream allows you to ferry just as a boat would. When rolling from back to front or vice versa, roll laterally, don't go head over heels, or you'll push your feet down and risk foot entrapment.
In general, the situation dictates how you should swim. In heavy water with little hope of catching an eddy, a defensive swim allows you to conserve your energy for when it will be useful. In shallow water where there is danger of impact injuries or foot entrapment, defensive swimming lets you keep most of your body safe. But when an opportunity for getting off the river presents itself, aggressive swimming is often the only way to take advantage of the opportunity.
There are two special cases: steep drops and strainers. If you are going over a steep drop with your body stretched out (as for defensive or aggressive swimming), you risk having your feet catch on the bottom as you are driven down into the pool below, leading to foot entrapment. If you are going over a drop, curl up into a cannonball position until you are past it –you are more likely to hit things, but less likely to get stuck. For strainers, see section 3.3.
- Foot entrapment
Foot entrapment describes what can happen if a person stands up in moving water. If their foot sets down between, two rocks or in a crevice, and the current pushes them off their feet, then there is a good chance their foot will become wedged and they will be held underwater by the current. Ever stood up in the surf at the ocean and been tossed around by a wave? Moving water is capable of exerting tremendous force, more than most people realize.To avoid foot entrapment, the general rule is to never, ever stand up in moving water. If you end up swimming in whitewater, swim as described in section 3.1, with your feet up and away from the bottom. Work your way to shore this way, and crawl onto dry land. Some people advise never standing up in water deeper than your knees, because water that deep or less is shallow enough that you could basically do a pushup and hold it to keep your head out of the water. I still prefer crawling, personally. Don't be fooled into thinking that the water isn't deep enough to push you over if it is below your waist --most swimming situations leave the swimmer over-exerted, shocked by cold, and disoriented, and most swimmers I've seen are unsteady on their feet when they first get out of the water. I often trip on dry land after crawling out ;>.
A strainer is anything sticking into our out of the river which stops solid objects but lets water through. Think of it like a pasta strainer. A tree with branches that has tipped into the river, saplings growing upward that are partly submerged, and rebar sticking out of concrete are three types of strainer. They are very dangerous because if a boat or a swimmer is pushed up against them by the current, they will be pinned against the strainer by the current and often submerged by water rushing over them. The best way to deal with strainers is avoid them, period. They have no positive or beneficial aspects, so there is no reason to go near one as there is with holes. Whether you are in a boat or -- swimming, you should do anything you can to avoid hitting the strainer._Whitewater Rescue Manual- (see section 3.9) suggests that, if you are swimming and hitting a strainer is unavoidable, you should aggressively swim forward it on your stomach, and as you reach it / grab it and try to climb up it. Because you're swimming with the current, the current won't be pushing you against the strainer immediately, so you can get a second or two to climb before the water starts to pin you. The goal here is to either climb up and over/off of the strainer, or to attain a tenable position with your head out of the water which will give your buddies time to come to your aid. I ended up on a strainer of saplings once, and was able to get to a relatively secure position until a commercial raft could swing by and give me a chance to jump aboard. It should be stressed, however, that strainers are Major Badness, and you should do everything you can to avoid it before using this technique.
I've been told that UK and European guidebooks have stopped recommending this method because strainers are so dangerous that swimmers are better off not even thinking they have a chance in a strainer, and therefore will be more careful to avoid them. I would love to see discussion of this point on the newsgroup.
Water, as mentioned before, has a lot more force than people sometimes think. It carved the Grand Canyon out. On a smaller scale, it can easily wear away many softer rocks (sandstone, say, as opposed to granite). When you have a rock or a rock wall that extends above the water, sometimes the rock is worn away underneath the water. You end up with an overhang of sorts; think of a rock shaped like a mushroom, with the water submerging the stern so all you see is the cap. When the current hits this rock, it pushes down to flow underneath the stone. If a boat or a swimmer hits the rock, the same thing is likely to happen, but the chance of getting stuck underwater is very, very high. For this reason, undercut rocks should be avoided.Undercut rocks tend to look much like normal rocks, so there's no easy way to pick them out from the crowd. One signal to look out for is a rock with no pillow breaking on the upstream face; that can indicate that the water if just flowing on underneath the rock. Some undercuts still have pillows, though, so this can't be relied upon. The best bet is to use guidebooks and local knowledge to avoid undercuts.
Undercuts tend to be more common in areas with softer rock. For example, the New England region of the US tends to have fewer undercuts because the stone is generally of the harder variety; there isn't much sandstone in New England at all. The South Eastern region of the United States tends to have more sandstone and other softer rocks, and undercuts are more common there.
Holes, as discussed in 2.3, act as black holes in the current, sucking surrounding water and objects in and recirculating them. When that object is a person, recirculation can be a very bad thing, because they don't get so many chances to breathe. Some people recommend curling up into a ball and letting your body being flushed out of the bottom of the hole, to resurface downstream and out of the hole. I have heard it suggested that removing your life jacket to make this easier is an option if you can't seem to flush out, but have my reservations about this (among other things, I don't think it is going to be easy to undo however many straps and get out while being recirculated in a washing machine). One way to get out is to have a buddy toss a throw rope in, grab onto it, and get pulled on out; there is some contention over this method, because ropes can be caught on rocks in holes and serve to further ensnare the swimmer. A throw rope thrown into a hole should be clean (no knots or tangles) and the thrower should probably not throw slack rope if at all possible. If you can work your way to the corners of a hole, you might be able to reach out into the current and get pulled out.
[This section needs help --my hole experience is limited]
A pin is what happens when a boat is pushed up against some obstacle or obstacles and held there by the current, sometimes trapping the boater as well. A pin can happen when the center of the boat broaches sideways on a rock and the ends are caught by the current, or when each end is caught on a rock and the current exerts force on the middle of the boat. If your boat is pinned, the faster you act to get off the better; once water starts piling up on your boat, movement becomes much harder. In general, lean toward any rock you are broached on and rock or use your paddle to pry yourself off of it.
Hypothermia is what happens when a body loses too much heat. There are plenty of wonderful technical descriptions that you can read elsewhere, but simply put, as your body gets colder it and your brain get sluggish, confused, and eventually inoperable. At some point, your body is too cold to warm itself back up without outside help. Once your body temperature drops too much, you die.Whitewater paddling is a potentially wonderful way to get hypothermia. Firstly, water is a much more efficient conductor of heat than air, so running water over your body will drain it of heat faster than running air over your body. Secondly, paddling is often done in the fall, winter, and spring, when a) there is a lot of rain, b) there is a lot of snowmelt, and c) there aren't many trees leaves to drink up the water. As a result, paddling water is often cold water.
The best way to avoid hypothermia is to dress properly, have fuel in your body, and have warm or dry clothing ready to change into once you're off the water.
One quick note: Cotton kills. Cotton, which blue jeans are made out of among other clothing items, has almost NO insulating properties once it is wet. It will do you NO GOOD AT ALL when wet. Don't wear it when paddling.
Dressing properly means, in many cases, a wetsuit or a drysuit. These are discussed in section 6.1 below. The rule of thumb is that when water temperature plus air temperature is less than 100 degrees F, a wetsuit or better is required (for example, 40 degree water + 55 degree air temps is 95 degrees; wear a wetsuit).
Again, I'm not going to extensively discuss hypothermia here. There are a lot of more authoritative sources, and I'll link to them here when I track them down. I advise anyone reading this to educate themselves on hypothermia.
- Man-made Dangers
Some of the most dangerous features you can find on the river were put there by man, not by nature. Barbed wire fences sometimes straddle streams to keep the cows in. Low head dams usually create surprisingly deadly hydraulics. Drainage culverts were not designed with people climbing out in mind.A lot of the danger has to do with man's tendency toward neatness. A low head dam is a dam where the water pours over the top of a river-wide wall. These dams are almost always designed to be straight as a ruler, which results in a perfectly uniform hydraulic, with the water on the surface flowing back upstream all along the width of the dam. That's the key: there are no channels on the side where some of the water flows downstream! That means no escape channels for someone who gets stuck sidesurfing one of these hydraulics.
It is the regularity, not the size that makes a low head dam a killer. A dam with an I-foot drop can, and has, killed people.
Drainage culverts and other structures where engineers have built cement walls are also dangerous. The walls of these channels, even if not vertical, are very smooth and uniform - nothing sticks out to create an eddy. That means that ALL the water flows smoothly and swiftly downstream. Very good from a drainage engineers point of view, not so good from the point of view of the person being swept downstream with no chance to climb out.
Also beware pipes or other obstructions, many of which can act as strainers.
- Whitewater Safety and Rescue Resources
Obviously, this FAQ isn't able to cover many issues in the detail they deserve and the safety and rescue issues especially.
A good primer to the basics to river safety are included here: http://www.acanet.org/pdf/ess_river_safety.pdfI recommend the following resources for anyone who paddles whitewater:
River Rescue: A Manual For Whitewater Safety by Les Bechdel and Slim Ray. - 3rd Edition Paperback published by Appalachian Mountain Club, April 1997
- How to swim in whitewater
- Why would anyone paddle whitewater?
After all those descriptions of why paddling is dangerous, you might be wondering "Why would anyone want to paddle whitewater?" The short answer is - it is fun. It's a blast. It's a kick. I like to think of it as sledding on top of an avalanche –not only are you flying downhill, but the hill is flying underneath you! Whitewater gives you a chance to take a boat out on a river that is almost always far, far stronger than you, and lets you use the £forces of the river to your advantage. You get the satisfaction of knowing what water will do, how it will affect your boat, and what you can do to cause a beneficial or fun effect.
- River running
The simplest thing a whitewater paddler does is run a river. That is to say, they put in at one point, they paddle downstream for a while, and they get out. Along the way, they must look at and understand what the river is doing, avoid dangers, pull into eddies for a rest, and control their boat. Often, they may be surrounded by wonderful scenery as they do so.
- Rapid running
The next challenge a paddler will face is running rapids. That is to say, at some point, the river will get steeper, require more maneuvering, become more chaotic and forceful, and require greater levels of boat control and paddling ability. Sort of like a roller coaster, but you have to know what you are doing.
- Surfing and playing
Once a paddler is capable of getting from the start to the end of the river without problems, the fun begins. Once you know how to paddle past the waves, holes and obstacles of a river, you can begin learning to play in them.
- Front/Back Surf
A Front or Back surf involves paddling your boat onto the upstream face of a wave, and staying there for a while. The water tries to push you back off the wave, and gravity pulls your boat down and forward to the trough of the wave. Balancing these forces with paddle strokes and rudders is how you surf. A front surf simply implies that your bow is facing upstream. A back surf implies that your stern is facing upstream, i.e., you are surfing backwards. The front surf is easier because you can see what you are doing and control the boat more easily.
- Side Surf
A side surf involves paddling into a hole and balancing, perpendicular to the current, along the edge of the hole where the water drops down into the hole. The side of the boat that touches the upstream water must be lifted up to counter the force of the water pushing that edge down, or the boat will flip. Essentially, it is a precarious balance point where the boat is tossed around by the chaotic and contrary water currents.
Sometimes water will pour heavily next to a rock or between two rocks, sometimes forming a hole, and sometimes not. If there is enough water in front of and below the place this water falls down, a paddler can paddle up into it and bury the bow of their boat under the water. The water forces the bow down, and the boat rises to a vertical position. The boat will then come spitting out of the water as buoyancy reasserts itself. This is called an "ender" because the boat stands on end. If the boater uses their paddle to spin the boat while it is vertical, then it is called a "pirouette." Landing upside down is always an option when trying one of these moves ;>. Vertical moves are quick because the water flips your boat up and spits it out! You can do an ender or pirouette with the stern of your boat instead of the bow, although they are harder.
Squirting involves pushing one end of your boat under the water, using the current to keep it there, push it around, and maybe spin it. Some kayaks with a low volume stern (the New Wave Sleek and the Dagger RPM are two such) can do stern squirts easily, using an eddy line. There are boats dedicated to squirt moves which are low volume (i.e., smaller boat for same size person; usually very thin from top to bottom so they cut under the water more easily). See section 5.1.3 fore more on squirt boats.
- Advanced moves
There is a slew of advanced moves --spins, whip-it, McTwists, cartwheels, etc. Most of them involve keeping one end of your boat in a hole and sticking the other end of the boat in the current to spin the boat around, sometimes while horizontal, sometimes more vertical. I'm not going to go into huge detail here; I don't know enough, and it's changing every day;>. Maybe someone will put together a Rodeo FAQ (whitewater rodeo is a competition where paddlers take a wave or a hole and show off their stuff)
- Front/Back Surf
- River running
- What types of boats are appropriate for whitewater?
Kayaks, canoes and rafts are commonly used for whitewater paddling.
A kayak is a small boat, having only one opening where the person sits, and is paddled with a two-bladed paddle. A kayaker sits on his butt with his legs stretched forward to the bow of the kayak, and his knees snugly nestled against the underside of the deck. A "spray skirt" is a neoprene garment which fits snugly around the kayakers waist and torso, then flares out to fit snugly around the rim of the cockpit, keeping water out of the boat. A "spray skirt" may also be called a "spray deck", and may be made out of nylon instead of neoprene (or a mix).A whitewater kayak is usually short, anywhere from 8 feet to 11 or 12 feet, and does not have a noticeable keel. If a kayaker flips over in the water, he can roll the kayak back upright using his paddle and his hips, which generally beats drowning by a large margin. If a kayaker can't roll, he can always do a "wet exit", and get out of the boat.
There are many specific subtypes of whitewater kayak design, which I discuss below.
- Creek Boats A creek boat is a kayak designed for descending steep, narrow, obstruction- ridden creeks. Creek boats are shorter, to reduce the chances of pinning. They also have rounded ends to avoid ~ spearing the end of the boat into something that will hold the boat, because in a steep creek it can be very hard to avoid obstacles.
- Play Boats
These days, there are more play boats than you can shake a stick at. Some are designed to surf well, some to spin on waves, some to make repeated rotations in a hole easier. This variety makes it hard to describe them easily --the hull shape, the bow and stern volume, everything can be modified to change the capabilities with surfing in mind. The only common denominator is that they are generally designed for serious get-down-and-dirty FUN, that's F-U-N.
- Squirt Boats
A squirt boat is a kayak or a C1 (see 5.2.1) that has low volume (volume is the amount of space a boat takes up if submerged; the more volume, the more buoyant) and is generally very thin from top to bottom. The low volume allows the paddler to force one end or the other under water, which allows the water to spin the boat or cause other neat vertical effects. A squirt kayak is often recognized by the leg-shaped bulges that stick out of the front deck! Squirt boats can also do "mystery moves," which refers to a move done with the boat fully submerged.
- Tandem Kayaks
Almost all whitewater kayaks hold only one person. There are at least two whitewater kayaks designed for two paddlers, the Topolino Duo from Prijon and the Nyami Nyami by Slate River Kayaks. Double the challenge, double the fun! Much harder to roll upright than a single kayak, because the two paddlers need to roll in unison.
- Inflatable Kayaks
Two long pontoons forming a banana shape with a seat in the middle for the paddler. The paddler is not enclosed, but may be strapped in to some extent, and must use a longer paddle to reach the water. Less threatening to people who feel they will get stuck inside a kayak, more buoyant, and more stable.
- Sit-an-Top Kayaks
A sit-on-top is a kayak without a cockpit, having instead an indentation along the top where the paddler sits and puts his legs. Also uses straps to hold the paddler in, and also requires a longer paddle because the paddler is higher up off the bottom of the boat. Pretty much the same advantages as an inflatable.
The difference between a canoe and a kayak is the seat and the paddle. A canoe paddler sits on his knees with his ankles underneath his butt, rather than on his butt with his legs stretched out in front of him. A canoe paddle is single bladed, rather than double bladed.
- C1 (l-person closed canoe)
A Cl is rather like a kayak --a closed boat with a cockpit in the middle. The difference is that the paddler kneels rather than sits, and uses a single bladed paddle rather than a double. A Cl paddler often uses straps that stretch over the thighs to help hold them in the boat. A Cl paddler also uses a skirt to keep water out of the boat. A Cl paddler can also roll their boat when it flips.
- OCI (I-person open canoe)
An OCI is a regular open canoe which seats one person near the middle of the boat. The extra space in an open whitewater canoe is often filled with flotation bags, essentially a big bag of air that keeps water from filling up the boat. The paddler may use straps over his thighs to help keep him in the boat. An OCI can be rolled, but not as easily as a kayak or a Cl.
- OC2 or Tandem Canoe (2-person open canoe)
An OC2 is a regular open canoe which seats two people. A whitewater OC2 will also use flotation bags and may use thigh straps. It is very rare to seen an OC2 rolled, and it requires a great deal of coordination and cooperation for two people to handle one correctly in whitewater. Often an easy way to start learning paddling, but it isn't always recommended that you pair off with your significant other ;>
- Inflatable Canoes
Similar to an inflatable kayak, inflatable canoes are paddled from a sitting or kneeling position. Inflatable canoes hold more cargo than inflatable kayaks and are used more frequently for extended whitewater wilderness trips. The versatility of an inflatable canoe allows it to be paddled with either a single blade (canoe paddle) or double blade (kayak paddle). The line between inflatable canoes and inflatable kayaks is very fuzzy in some cases.
- C1 (l-person closed canoe)
Rafts are inflatable craft which are propelled either by a crew of several people using single- bladed paddles, or by a single person using a pair of oars. Duckies (inflatable kayaks or canoes) are usually not considered rafts. Most non-motorized rafts used in whitewater are between 12 and 18 feet long.Rafts are much more stable than kayaks and canoes, but generally less maneuverable. Smaller rafts and catarafts are more maneuverable than large ones. Rafts have good carrying capacity for people and gear. They are widely used by commercial outfitters, since they can carry non- paddling passengers and because one experienced guide can direct a crew of inexperienced paddlers through moderately difficult rapids without many problems. However, non- commercial river runners also use rafts.
Most rafts these days are self-bailing, which means that the floor is inflatable and separated from the tubes by a lacing which allows the water to drain out (and splash in!). Older and less expensive rafts have solid floors which hold water and require bailing.
- Paddle rafts
Paddle rafts usually have no frame. They are propelled by a crew of several people (usually 4-8) under the direction of a captain. They are usually more maneuverable than oar rafts.
- Oar rafts
Oar rafts have a frame of wood or metal which sits on top of the tubes. The frame usually has wooden floor sections as well, so oar rafts can easily carry more gear than non-frame rafts. The frame holds oar locks for the oars, which are usually 9-14 feet long (depending on raft size). The oars are operated by a single person, but passengers can ride on the raft as well. This type of boat is used by outfitters for luggage, and also more frequently used by private river runners than paddle rafts since only one person is required to operate the boat. Rowing a large oar raft takes either a lot of muscle or a good ability to read the river, because a heavy boat carries a lot of momentum.
Catarafts are usually made of two inflatable pontoons with a frame holding them together. (Some "catacanoes" are made of two sit-on-top canoes with a frame! They are operated by two paddlers, one on each canoe.) Catarafts are generally oar rigs, with the boatman's seat in the middle, on the frame. Because they are much lighter and have less drag in the water, they are much more maneuverable than a "regular" raft of the same size --but they also have less gear and passenger capacity.
- Paddle rafts
- What other equipment is necessary or useful?
It takes more than a boat to make a paddler. A paddle, for .instance. But for safety and comfort, the following items are found in a whitewater paddler’s closet.
A wetsuit is an outfit made of neoprene rubber, usually faced with nylon. Paddling wetsuits are generally 2-5 mm thick, as opposed diving wetsuits, which (I believe) go up to 8 mm. A wetsuit works by a) being a layer of insulation, and b) by trapping a thin layer of water between your body and the wetsuit. This thin layer of water is easily warmed by your body and serves to help keep you warm.A drysuit is a waterproof nylon outfit, loosely fitting, with latex rubber gaskets at the neck, wrists and ankles, and has a waterproof zipper. It is worn over standard insulative clothing (polypropylene, PolarTec (tm), wool, other piles, etc.) and keeps the water out. A drysuit is generally the warmest option. Some drysuits are made out of Gore-Tex (tm), which theoretically allows your sweat vapor to escape without letting water in (I've never tried one, and have heard mixed reviews). When you get out of a drysuit at the end of the day, it is sopping wet with your sweat, but it still keeps you warm. Gore-Tex drysuits need to be cleaned often because the salts in sweat clog the pores of the material. Also, Gore-Tex can be revitalized by ironing, but the details of how to do this vary from account to account.
Dry tops (just the shirt part) and dry bottoms (just the pants) are available as well. Getting a two-piece suit is slightly less dry (more gaskets to worry about) in some cases, but is much more versatile as far as how warm you need to be.
Dry booties are latex socks that can be glued onto the ankle of a drysuit to keep your feet dry as well. Wetsuit booties are boots made out of neoprene, which can be worn over dry booties -- for protection or alone to replace shoes.
Neoprene gloves are available to keep your hands warm, as are Fogies. A Pogie is like a mitten that your hand fits into and which fits over the paddle shaft, so you can hold the paddle but still be protected from the elements.
I've found that wearing a thin cap under your helmet makes cold water paddling that much less painful. Such caps are found in almost any paddling store, but if possible try it on under your helmet, and see what it does to the fit.
What you need, when, is a matter of personal choice as much as mathematics. I think I have poor circulation, because I get cold and numb very easily when paddling, so I almost always wear a drysuit. I know others who prefer a wetsuit in anything but water with ice floating in it.
A type III or V Coast Guard approved PFD (Personal Flotation Device) is required in the US. This is a vest type jacket, NOT a horseshoe type. Whatever the law requires, it's just plain smart to wear one. Swimming in whitewater is harder than in normal water; the body is less buoyant in aerated water. Whitewater offers plenty of opportunities for confusion or unconsciousness which can make a life jacket the difference between life and death. Get one, wear one, and practice jumping in with one, so you know how it works.
There are lots of rocks in whitewater rivers, and kayakers in particular can be dragged downstream with their head bouncing off the bottom. I've smacked my helmet into a rock three or four times --didn't feel like much, but I shudder to think of what it would have felt like without the helmet. A helmet should be considered a firm requirement for whitewater.There are whitewater helmets made specifically for paddling, where low-speed impacts are more likely than high-speed. Protec (tm) is probably the most common. Put it on, strap it on, and wear it out. One great reference helmet: http://www.whitewaterhelmet.com/
To reiterate earlier points, cold is a danger with whitewater. Wear clothing that keeps some insulation value when wet (wool, pile, PolarTec (tm) , polypropylene) and avoid cotton, which has no insulation value when wet. If there is room, carrying a dry bag with dry clothes in it is a good idea.
- Throw Rope
50 feet or so of buoyant rope, carried in a pouch. The purpose of a throw rope is to throw to people who are swimming; they grab on, the thrower digs in, and the current pushes them to the side of the river rather than carrying them downstream. This helps get people out of the cold water faster and before they hit anything else nasty.You should never tie a rope to yourself in whitewater, and if you attach rope to your boat you should have a way of releasing it quickly. If the rope gets caught on a rock a submerged tree, you can be pulled underwater by it. This goes for the person throwing a throw rope as well as catching it --I've been pulled into the water by someone I tossed a throw rope to before (see the point about digging in above).
There are some situations where attaching oneself to a rope is called for, but only with some form of quick-release and preferably by someone trained in whitewater rescue.
Many paddlers carry a short, possibly serrated "rescue knife." The purpose of this knife is to cut through anything which grabs you and can hold you underwater, like a throw rope that tangles around your leg, or a small tree branch. The profusion of rescue knives, compared to the number of whistles or other safety equipment carried, is a statistical anomaly that can only be attributed to the appeal of knives to the kid in all of us.There has recently been much discussion about knives on the newsgroup; points to consider are sharp tipped versus rounded tipped knives, single sided versus double sided, serrated versus non-serrated. It is impossible to summarize the volume of conclusions that were reached; I suggest a dejanews search for "knife or knives or cut" for October and November of 1997. One good point, though, is that if you carry a knife, you should have tested its abilities (make sure it can cut rope quickly) and be a little familiar with its use.
Many paddlers carry a whistle. Because bubbly whitewater creates a lot of background noise, it can be very hard to get someone's attention; a whistle will be more easily heard. Whistles can be used to alert bystanders of a swimmer, to warn upstream boaters that you've wandered into something they shouldn't or anywhere that you need to get everyone's attention to avoid or handle an emergency.
- What about... (actual FAQs)
Some actual Frequently Asked Questions, as opposed to a huge old primer ;>
Very few paddlers have perfect vision, and glasses fog up when a hot paddler takes a dip in cold water. Every few months someone will post to r.b.p. asking about wearing contacts in whitewater. The general consensus is that they are okay to wear, although disposables may be wiser than regular contacts. I normally wear glasses but have a supply of AccuVue (tm) I-day disposables for paddling, and it makes a world of difference. I lost one while swimming in a pool with my eyes open, and have gotten them jammed up under my eyelid twice (once after getting thoroughly trashed in a hole, once when practicing squirting and rolling). Both times I was able to remove them, and could reinsert them.There are rumored to be 'sport' contacts with larger lenses that stay in better. Details or references appreciated.
A couple of notes of caution --I've heard soft lenses are better than hard lenses, and I don't remember why that is. Also, they say you should wait 1/2 an hour after getting out of the water before removing lenses, the theory being that water in your eyes replaces your natural saline lubricant, and can cause the lens to stick to your eye, causing damage when the lens is removed. Waiting 30 minutes gives your eyes time to replenish the saline.
- Nose clips
Whitewater paddlers end up in the water a lot. Kayakers in particular spend a lot of time underwater attached to their boat, waiting to roll back up. Some people find it easy to keep water out of their nose, and some find it very hard. Nose clips are used to avoid the discomfort of having water up your nasal passages.Most nose clips are rubber circles on a U shaped metal spring. The spring presses the circles into the sides of your nose, clamping the nostrils shut. I've also seen some that are simple U shapes that clamp from underneath the nose.
Though nose clips are very useful, paddlers should be careful not to depend too much on them, because they can be knocked off at the most inopportune time. Practice rolling without nose clips so that you can still roll when they fail you.
- On-side versus Off-side roll
A roll, as briefly mentioned before, is how a boater can right their boat using their paddle and their hips. The terms "On-side" and "Off-side" are sometimes used to describe a roll. There are two schools of thought on what these terms mean.A quick primer: A kayaker rolls by stretching the paddle alongside the kayak and toward the bow on one end, then swings out the bow end of the paddle and hipsnaps to right the boat. With a kayak paddle, one hand grips the paddle and twists it, the other allows it to slip as it is twisted. They are called the control hand and the slip hand.
One school of thought holds that an on-side roll is a roll in which the control hand is up toward the bow, and sweeps out as part of the roll. An off-side roll is one where the slip hand begins near the bow and sweeps out. An off-side roll often requires more dexterity to rotate the paddle correctly before rolling, and it is thus usually more difficult than an on-side roll.
The second school of thought holds that the on side is the side with a stronger, more proficient roll. In most cases, this would be the same as the first definition, as the control-hand-forward roll should be a little easier.
I'm an adherent of the first school, because it makes more sense (the second definition becomes meaningless once a paddler becomes skilled enough to have an ambidextrous roll, and it means different things to different people, because it is subjective).
On-side and off-side have more easily determined meanings with a canoe paddle --the off-side requires you to reach across your body with the blade, and the on-side doesn't. Since there's only one blade, there is less confusion.
In any case, any paddler should strive to have an ambidextrous roll, because you can't always pick and choose which side you need to roll on!
- Where can I find info to learn how to roll?
There is a reputedly excellent video called "Grace Under Pressure"
An excellent book: The Bombproof Roll and Beyond by Paul Dutky Published by Menasha Ridge Press, March 1997 ISBN 0897320859 See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN%3D0897320859/
- Why do some people call a Kayak a Canoe?
From SJesson(at)aol.com: "As a side note, in the UK and elsewhere that English rather than American English is spoken, 'canoe' is used as a general term to include all watercraft propelled with a paddle which is not attached to the boat (so does not include rowing boats where the oars are attached to the hull via the rowlocks)."We often use the terms 'kayak' and 'Canadian canoe' to distinguish between what others call kayaks and canoes, respectively.
"However, we (i.e. the BCU) are trying to encourage the use of the international terms. This may be successful within the sport but the old definitions will still hold for the man in the street and raw beginners, to whom they will all be 'canoes'."
- What is boat outfitting? How do I do it?
Boat outfitting refers to adding or removing padding to your boat so that you fit correctly. A correct boat fit allows the paddler to properly control the boat with their body (not too loose...) without making it dangerously hard to get out of the boat when it comes time to swim (not too tight...). Most outfitting involves tightening up the fit.Outfitting generally involves a block of closed-cell foam, a knife, heavy sandpaper or sharkskin, adhesive, and patience. Shape the piece you think will help, try it out, and then adjust it. When it feels great, glue it in.
There's also much more complex outfitting (like adding seats to an open canoe, playing with straps, etc. etc.) There's probably room for a whole other FAQ on making your boat fit right. See this site for a great reference: http://kayakoutfitting.com/mainpage.php
- Which boat should I buy?
This question comes up a lot, and the only good answer is --try some and find out. A variant is the "Which boat is better, X, Y, or z?" Each boat has strengths and weaknesses, and two people rarely get the same experience out of the same boat. Until you've paddled a boat, you can't know whether you like it, regardless of the neat moves everyone and the manufacturer say it'll do. Use the claims and the reputations of a boat to put it on your "to try" list, not your "must buy" list.Having said that, it isn't always easy to find and try boats. Many boaters are touchy about complete strangers asking to try their boats.
Here are some options:
--> Find a whitewater outfitter that has demo boats
--> Many whitewater clubs have rental boats, and if you paddle with people regularly they're more likely to let you try their boat.
--> Many manufacturers bring demo boats to whitewater festivals and popular dam releases -- why not call them and ask if they have a schedule?
--> Check the manufacturers web page; they might be helpful
Check out the ACA reference: http://www.americancanoe.org/PDF/buyingacanoe-kayak.pdf
- How can I ship a boat cheaply?
Trucking companies like Consolidated Freight, Roadway, Yellow Freight System, etc. have shipped boats for <$100. Others have reported quotes of $130 to $400, though. It helps if it is being dropped off at the carrier or at a normal carrier stop, and picked up at the carrier or at a normal carrier stop. Your best bet is to call around and ask what you can do that would lower the price (packaging, drop-off, pick-up).Rumor has it that shipping by train in Canada is cheaper ($35), but I doubt AmTrak can match that.
- Can I fly with my kayak?
Delta is reported to have checked a kayak for $50 extra. American reportedly flew a boat from Philly to Honduras for $90 round trip, but this was set up by going to the airport and talking to someone in baggage handling, rather than at the reservation/I-800 level. Some posts suggest that calling a spade a spade (or, a boat a boat) is more trouble than good; airlines may prefer to ship a "10' x l.5' x l' box weighing 60 pounds" than they would a "kayak". Stories abound that calling it a "Surf Ski" or a "Windsurfboard" will make it more palatable to airline folks.
- Where can I find river levels online?
http://water.usgs.gov/public/realtime.html Jump from here to state USGS sites for the US
http://waterdata.usgs.gov/wv/nwis/uv?03112000 Wheeling Creek
http://waterdata.usgs.gov/pa/nwis/uv?03081500 Youghiogheny at Ohiopyle
http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/state/WV WV rivers & streams
http://www.americanwhitewater.org/search/?rivername=&state=rgMC&level=min&atleast=I&atmost=V&sr=River+Search AW runable rivers
- What is 303, and can I use Armorall instead?
303 Protectant is a liquid that is used to protect rubber from UV and other damaging effects. Used regularly on drysuit gaskets, it can prolong their life greatly. It can also be used on other equipment (life jackets, spray skirts, boats) but beware, as it does make whatever it is applied to very slippery. 303 has a web site at http://www.303-products.com/ . The common question "does anyone know a mail order source for 303" is usually answered with "NRS!", at http://www.nrsweb.com/.Armorall, which does pretty much the same thing, is believed to be more damaging to equipment, especially latex. The general consensus of the group is that this is because Armorall contains silicone, and 303 doesn't, but no one knows for sure
- Who has right of way? River and Ocean surfing etiquette
River Etiquette --this question is usually asked in the context of "I was paddling downstream and this surf dog wouldn't get out of my way " The general consensus is that people playing should yield to people running downriver, but that people running downriver should try to pick lines that don't interrupt someone's surf if possible. Seems straightforward, but then you add in newbies (unable to avoid surfers) and rafts ('nuff said) and tempers usually start rising. Suffice it to say, it’s a messy topic.Ocean Surfing Etiquette --this question is usually asked because someone went surfing in a Kayak and got in a head-to-head with a board surfer. Board surfers, unlike Kayakers, figured out a long time ago that the beaches were too crowded not to have some solid rules of etiquette. They get naturally upset when kayakers barge in without a clue.
- Where do I keep my beer/wine/liquor?
Either in the shuttle vehicle or the campground, with due attention paid to campground/park service/whoever rules.Drinking impairs judgment. Paddling requires good judgment. Lots of paddlers drink; safe paddlers don't drink before or on the river.
Want to learn more? Look it up on the net. http://www.google.com/
Paddling Club & Organizations:
Learning about kayaking: