The Hell of High Water


Water is fun. It allows us to swim and canoe along with a lot of other fun activities. Mathematically, you’d think that if some water is fun, more water must be more fun. Unfortunately, that is not the case, in fact it is the opposite. High water levels can be very dangerous. In fact, my advice to anyone who has not taken a “Moving Water” or Whitewater canoe course is to avoid high level rivers entirely, as a normally placid river can create the same dangers as running rapids.

Moving water is, for lack of a better term, pushy. It speeds up the water creating strong currents, which means it speeds up the canoe. Just like driving really fast, it can be dangerous because the faster you’re moving the more unstable the boat becomes, requiring immediate reaction and precise action to correct movement. Swamping is very easy with even a slight shift of the boat. This now leaves you in fast moving water with unpredictable currents. If there are waves, it means they too are faster and stronger, making navigating waves another necessary skill.

You must be highly skilled at navigating the canoe, and in unison with your partner. For example, you have to be extremely careful taking out and putting in. You do not want to be trying to drift into or out of a portage to find yourself being pulled into whatever it is you’re supposed to be portaging around, like rapids or waterfalls. Moving around any dangers is essential. High water moves larger obstacles than normal, and more of it, because of the water being over areas not normally submerged. With the speed of the water, it adds the issue of trying to get around those obstacles much more difficult.

Strainers are a particular danger. These are objects that allow water to move through them, but not canoes or the people in them – most often downed trees. Avoiding this situation is essential because it tends to push the canoe until it is over-turned and then takes in water, pulling the canoeists under the current. If you do find yourself in that situation, first, forget the canoe and worry about yourself. Try to climb up the object, and hopefully you can use it to make your way to shore. If not, stay put, as it will be easier to spot and rescue you from there than floating down the river.

These are just a few of the dangers of high water. Before you decide to go out make sure you have the necessary canoeing skills, but also your swimming skills should be strong, just in case, particularly the ability to handle yourself underwater. Oh, and of course you wouldn’t go out there without your life jacket.

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