From: Drew Gregory
When on the river there are certain laws and practices that we can do to make sure we stay safe and arrive alive at the takeout. This article is going to teach you some tips and tricks of the river to keep you safe!
Each state has a different law regarding life vests and whether or not they have to be worn while on the river. In most of the states that I fish it is not a law to have them on while on the river, but they must be within easy reach and accessible in the boat. I keep mine right by my feet or on the back of my seat. I am about to be switching to the new inflatable style vest that is small and low profile so I can keep on at all times. Regardless of the law, it is always smarter and safer to have your life vest on at all times, especially if you are new to paddling or river fishing. I have been doing this for a long time and have logged many hours on the river to get to where I am very comfortable in most all river situations. At times people say that I make it look so easy standing up and fishing down the river, but believe me it is not easy at first. If you are a beginner, I would not recommend standing up in the kayak until you have learned and understand the basics of paddling, how to read the river and become more seasoned. I would also recommend trying it in calm water the first time and during one of the warmer months. Likewise, wear your life vest if you are learning to stand up in your canoe or kayak.
Along with having some whitewater kayaking training, I also have been certified as a Wilderness First Responder. This certification course is usually a week or two long and goes over all sorts or safety and survival tips for when a hospital is not close by. I would highly recommend taking a course such as this or at least the level below, which is called Wilderness First Aid. Some of the very simple first aid knowledge in this course has helped me in river situations. I bring a small first aid kit on every river trip and pack it with the likely bandages and items that we may need for a river emergency. Below is a list of items that I take and you may want to consider taking with you.
Small bandages – guaze pads – gauze wrap – ibuprofin – hand sanitizer or sanitized wipes – cold pack – Ace wrap – Neosporin – betadine – latex gloves – emergency blanket
Some other items to consider bringing with you are
charged cell phone - If something happens you can usually get signal or at least walk to get signal to call for help.
matches or lighter - If you do have to spend the night or need to warm up from falling into cold water this is a must have.
multitool – Survivorman goes nowhere without this and neither should you.
change of clothes – if you do happen to get wet on a cold day it is crucial to have an extra pair of dry clothes. Don’t underestimate how cold it can suddenly turn after dark in the winter, fall or spring. I like to pack a stocking cap and warm socks to go along with my other clothes because you never know when that temperature change will come. Also, a light weight poncho is a good thing to have in the boat.
plenty of water – sometimes when we are on water we forget to drink water. Drink plenty of water to keep your body hydrated so you don’t pass out or become exausted due to dehydration.
plenty of food – Usually I bring enough food to last me through that day and then I keep a few cans of sardines in the boat just in case something happens. Sardines are full of calories, protein and fat and are a great survival food. They also pack down tight and don’t take up much room. Beef jerky is another favorite of mine to keep on the boat.
flashlight - If you do have to spend the night this will be very important in making sure you can see what is going on in the dark.
rope – Rope can always be used for something so it is a must to have on the river.
Bug Spray – You never know when mosquitos may decide to come out do what we hope the fish do – bite! Or, sting or whatever they do, you get the idea.
Sunscreen – This may help keep you safe from skin cancer way down the road, but it could help you from getting sun poisoning that day if the heat index is high and you are vulnerable to being burned. Besides, you don’t want a face that looks like an old catchers mit by the time you are 40 or 50 years old. If you already have the catchers mit face, well, it never hurts to start at some point.
Chapstick – this can be especially important during the winter to keep your lips moist, but it also can be important to protect them from the sun.
GPS, map, compass – if you have a GPS it is very useful to know exactly where you are if something unfortunate does happen. A map and compass can also be together in a similar way.
sunglasses and hat – We think of sunglasses and hats as important for fishing, but I wear them for safety reasons as well. A lure can come flying back at you without any notice when you are trying to get unhooked from a tree or whatever. It is good to have something covering your eyes and head just in case.
whistle – A safety whistle is a good thing to keep around your neck or in a fishing vest pocket. You never know when you might need to blow this whistle to alert someone that you are in danger or to scare of potential danger.
small firearm – If you have a permit for a small gun it could be helpful to bring it around and pay attention around bridges and landings for shady behavior.
Duct Tape – this may be one of the most important things on the list. I have patched kayak holes with Duct Tape and it got us off the river back to the safety of our truck. I have also used it to fix a cracked paddle. There are so many things you can do with this tape and that is why it is a must have.
extra paddle – I don’t bring one of these but I know a lot of guys do. You never know what will happen on the river and if you lose or break your paddle you will be glad you have a spare.
As kayak fisherman we focus way more time learning about the fishing and not the kayaking. We need to read and watch some more instructional pieces on paddling wherever we can find them. Did you know that when entering swift water from an eddy you need to lean downriver when you hit the swift water? Little tips like this can really help you with boat control and boat control is not just important for safety, but for fishing. People underestimate the importance of boat positioning and if you have more experience and are learning about paddling you will be more in command of boat positioning and probably catch more fish. Rivers can be very unpredictable, but at the same time they can be highly predicted to a degree with proper education and experience. Also, when in doubt portage around the rapid you are concerned about. There is no harm or shame in being safe and arriving alive! If you do attempt to run some rapids then be careful to not leave your drag chain or anchor out because if it gets hung up, the force of the water will flip you over pretty quick. You can keep a box cutter or knife within reach and cut it as soon as you know you are hung up in a dangerous area.
Another way to be safe is to do your homework on the stretch of river you are fishing. Know how long the stretch is and also know how far your takeout is from certain landmarks (big rapid, an island, railroad bridge or large sandbar). It may even be smart to know where the closest hospital or quick care center is and how to get there. Along the same lines you can program in the local police phone number in your phone in case there is an emergency. You can also dial 911, but the better option is the local sheriff’s number because you can be connected with someone who knows the area quicker, and time may be of great importance!
Let someone know where you are going! I don’t like to go fishing by myself on the river and it is safer to fish with others when possible. However, at times I just want to stop off and paddle upstream for a mile and I don’t have a partner to join me. Make sure you call someone and let them know where you are. When you are safely off the river give them a call back and let them know that you have made it back safely. If you kayak on a big river, lake or in the ocean you need to put some reflectors and/or a flag on your boat so that you are visible to bigger boat traffic. Many kayaks are made in bright colors for this reason.
In conclusion this may sound like a lot to remember, but after you do it for a while and get set up with the proper items, it’s second nature. Obviously you can interchange certain items for certain trips as well. You probably don’t need a stocking cap or Chapstick in the summer for instance. However, if you are doing a camping trip then you may want to bring some more sophisticated survival items as well. Whatever you do, just make sure you have a plan of attack for safety just like you have a plan of attack for the fish!