Paddling Safety & Tips

Being prepared before starting any trip on the Mississippi River Water Trail.  Below are some tips and reminders to keep your trip safe and enjoyable. 

  • Wear your life jacket.
  • Be prepared to swim.
  • Never boat alone.
  • If you collide with an obstruction, lean toward it.
  • File a float plan with a relative or friend. Download an example float plan
  • Paddle within your experience and fitness levels.
  • Confine your first few outings to calm backwater areas.
  • Consider taking a paddling safety course.
  • Be familiar with capsize recovery techniques.
  • Carry the right gear.
  • Always check weather forecasts and river conditions before setting out.
  • Paddle in groups whenever possible and know the experience levels of those in the group. Remember: a group travels as fast as its slowest member.
  • Dress for the water temperature not the air temperature.
    Do not use alcohol or drugs when paddling.
    Conditions change – water levels, currents, winds and waves can vary day to day.
    Stay alert for submerged objects and be prepared for unruly currents around bridges, wing dams, and other structures.

Hazards on the Water

Cold Water – waters of the Mississippi River are first to cool off and last to warm up.  For river temperatures for Locks and Dams 22 & 24 visit the USACE gages.

Commercial Traffic – Barge traffic runs within the navigational channel, designated by the green and red buoys.  Paddlers should not travel in the main channel.

Things to Bring

It is important to have the right supplies when paddling on any waterway.  Be sure to have the following when paddling on the river. 

  • Lifejacket
  • Drinking Water
  • Map
  • Sunscreen
  • Food
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight
  • Bug repellant
  • Marine radio
  • Towel
  • Small trash bag
  • Cell Phone
  • GPS Unit
  • Complete change of clothes

Top 10 Tips from ACA

  1. Take an on-water Course – whether it’s a safety or skill development course, an ACA on-water instruction course provides the information you need for canoeing, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, rafting or safety & rescue.
  2.  Wear Your Lifejacket – Expect to capsize and swim occasionally when paddling a canoe, kayak, SUP or raft? Learn more about PFDs and how they might just save your life.
  3. Cold Water Safety – Cold water is extremely dangerous! Learn more about protecting yourself in this environment
  4. Rules of the Road – What paddlers need to know when sharing the waterways
  5. Safety Check – Safety tips you need to consider the next time you head out on the water
  6. Practices, Ethics and Conduct – Key points on how to appropriately share, and enjoy our natural paddling resources
  7. Know Your Limits – Good things to contemplate before you leave shore
  8. River Paddler’s Guide to Rescue – The basics, just in case…
  9. Best Practices for Paddlers and Paddlesports Programs
  10. Trip Preparation and Planning – Getting ready to schedule your next trip? Learn more useful tips