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River Safety Information for Paddlers

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DISCLAIMER: The following information is not intended, nor should it be assumed to be, a substitute for formal training in First Aid treatment and procedures. This information is presented to raise awareness of some medical conditions which can arise on canoeing, camping or hiking trips so that participants may better prepare themselves for all eventualities. The information presented is not intended to replace advice or instructions given by trained professional medical personnel. Information herein is gleened from various professional medical resources including the US Navy On-line Hospital web site, the American Red Cross web site and other reliable resources. It must be realized that improper or inadequate treatment of injuries can result in damages that sometimes are greater than doing nothing at all. Whenever possible and practical the assistance of trained, professional medical personnel should be summoned to administer treatment for serious injuries. The nature of outdoor recreation is such that injuries sometimes occur in remote areas far from available professional assistance. The information in this section is intended to be a helpful guide for treatment of injuries in such cases when getting professional help is not immediate and the nature of the injuries requires prompt attention. Marc McCord is not a trained medical practitioner, and makes no claim of expertise in treatment of injuries. Marc McCord and Southwest Paddler are not responsible for improper treatment of injuries and resulting damages that may occur.

Of paramount importance to all paddlers should be river safety. By the very nature of paddlesports and the environment in which they are enjoyed there is always an inherent risk of injury, or even death. While such occurrences are low, it is nonetheless important to be prepared for that eventuality so that swift, effective actions can be taken to prevent or reduce the extent of injuries and prevent death. The purpose of this section is the present some basic information and links to more detailed information that could be critical whenever things go wrong on a river. This is not meant to be an authoritative or complete dissertation on river safety. Rather, its purpose is to make paddlers aware of some basic elements of river safety, and to encourage further efforts to prepare for the possibilities of being the difference between minor and major injuries, or between life and death.

Kayak Paddle


By far, the worst problem that can happen to a paddler, other than being pinned underwater, is hypothermia. Whenever a body becomes hypothermic it loses the ability to rewarm itself, and the brain loses the ability to think clearly and send signals to the body telling it what to do to protect itself. Left untreated, or treated improperly, hypothermia can and will lead to death. Modern medical science and technology provide adequate means of preventing death and reducing after-effects for persons rescued in a hypothermic state. Death occurs from one of two causes; (1) a hypothermia victim is not treated for their condition, or (2) a hypothermia victim is improperly treat for their condition. There are effective field measures that can be taken to save a person from severe cold condition if others know the signs of hypothermia, know the actions to take, and take those actions quickly. Click HERE for information and links regarding hypothermia and its treatment.

Heat-Related Injuries

The polar opposite condition of hypothermia is heat exhaustion and heat stroke, conditions that occurs whenever a body gets severely overheated. Just as hypothermia can occur on a relatively warm day, so too can heat-related problems happen when the outside air temperatures are rather cool, even cold. It is important to know and recognize the signs of heat prostration and heat stroke, and be prepared to treat them immediately to prevent or reduce serious injury or prevent death resulting from overheating the body's core. Click HERE for information regarding heat-related injuries and their treatment.

First Aid and CPR

Most injuries that occur on rivers are relatively minor. Swift and proper treatment can usually minimize the effects. Being prepared to deal with minor medical problems is essential for paddlers, and the more remote the area where you paddle, the more you need to be ready with the knowledge, skills and resources necessary for helping a victim of minor injury, as well as stabilizing a person with more serious injuries. At least one good quality first aid kit should be carried in every group on a river trip, and paddlers should know how to utilize objects they find on the river or the banks. CPR is necessary for saving the life of a drowning person, or anybody else who, for whatever reason, has stopped breathing. Click HERE for information and links regarding First Aid and CPR.

Swiftwater Rescue

Often times, especially on fast-moving water, a paddler finds himself or herself swimming in a river while their boat goes on without them. In such situations it is very important to know what to do and what not to do. It is also important to know how to assist another paddler who is in trouble without jeopardizing your own life or safety. Swiftwater Rescue Training is vital for all who paddle moving water, and hand-in-hand with that training is having the right type and amount of gear to effect a rescue if and when it becomes necessary. Click HERE for information regarding swiftwater rescue training.

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Copyright © 1997-2015, Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. All rights reserved. Southwest Paddler, CobraGraphics and Canoeman River Guide Servcies are exclusive tradenames and trademarks of Marc W. McCord dba CobraGraphics. The textual, graphic, audio, and audio/visual material in this site is protected by United States copyright law and international treaties. You may not copy, distribute, or use these materials except for your personal, non-commercial use. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners. All original photos on this web site are the exclusive property of Marc W. McCord or other designated photographers and may not be copied, duplicated, reproduced, distributed or used in any manner except upon prior written permission under penalty of US and International laws and treaties.

Last updated April 30, 2014