Elements of High-Water Paddling

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With winter finally dwindling away and spring pushing in heavy rainfall, many paddlers are anxious to get out on the water!

Here at Headwaters Outfitters we want to give a heads-up reminder that high-water brings additional increase of hazards and risks during these conditions, on all sections of rivers. High-water can dramatically change our rivers, and requires additional emphasis on paddling safety!

There are 3 elements that can help determine if you should paddle a specific river at a specific water level or condition. First, one should know their skills and abilities as a boater. The Appalachian Mountain Club has a rating scale of I through V to help check your competence by their ratings. Second, one should know the water level and that the characteristics of a river can dramatically change as the water level rises or falls. An International Rating System has also been devised to help describe water level and rate of flow from “Low” levels to even “Flood” levels. This rating system goes hand-in-hand along with checking the “USGS Current Conditions” via internet; which shows through graphs the CFS (cubic feet per second) and the Gauge Height in Feet. Third, would be determining the classification of rapids of a specific section. The International Rating System classifies rapids from Class I (easy) through Class VI (extraordinarily difficult).

It is important to understand that high or even low waters can dramatically change the class of water, appearance, dynamics, and even consequences. Boaters should always “Know The Flow” and understand gauges may be located below the run you plan to paddle. Meaning, water can be higher then what the gauge is showing. This is a great time to also check the daily weather forecast; if you know there is more rain to come then chances are likely that the water level will continue to rise before it drops.

All paddling inherits risks but especially boating in high flood stage waters is dangerous. If you make the decision to do it…”Know Before You Go” and “Be Prepared” to best survive the experience. Guide books, maps, research via internet, boating groups, and speaking with your local outfitter are great resources to help stay safe out there!

Follow these links to determine your boater level, the water levels, and classifications of rapids.

https://paddling.com/learn/classification-of-rapids-water-level-and-canoeists/

https://waterdata.usgs.gov/usa/nwis/uv?site_no=03439000

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