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mashmaster

Canoe safety question

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Our troop has a canoe trip this weekend and we have been getting lots of rain.  What amount of river flow would you consider safe for a paddling for scouts?

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Depends on training. In general, I wouldn't put my scouts (who've only canoed flatwater, and never for more than an hour or so) on anything beyond class I.

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Our troop has a canoe trip this weekend and we have been getting lots of rain.  What amount of river flow would you consider safe for a paddling for scouts?

 

 

Anything above Class II requires a guide or specialized training under Safety Afloat guidelines: http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/OutdoorProgram/Aquatics/safety-afloat.aspx.  Ratings of rapids see here:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Scale_of_River_Difficulty

 

Depending on the river, a lot of rain will increase the speed of the current.  That typically isn't a problem.  However, the rain will also raise the water level which will make rocks that were just above the surface and visible now just below the surface and invisible.  In those conditions, the scouts should try to keep the canoe in the middle of the river.  The other issue is fallen trees and floating debris.  They just need to be watching the water.  Most of the aluminum canoes are strong enough to survive hitting submerged rocks and branches.

 

All that being said, we've canoed in Class II conditions caused by heavy rains and rising currents without any problems (well, except the two scouts in a canoe that got out in front, weren't paying attention and missed the island where we were camping.

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Best bet is get in touch with a local outfitter that knows the river and see what they're recommending for their customers.  Not sure what part of the country you're in, but we've been so dry here in Ohio that I doubt even with all the rain that the river would actual be considered anything but normal level at best.

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If you have to ask the question on a forum you probably already know that its time to pull the plug on the trip.   At least that's my experience.   

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If you have to ask the question on a forum you probably already know that its time to pull the plug on the trip.   At least that's my experience.   

 

That's an absurd statement.

The people who ask questions like this are the ones who I want to lead my youth on the designated weekend.

 

Not knowing the stream's location, we have no way of knowing if it even is carrying high water. Thanks to internet guages, we sometimes can look it up, but even so, we have no way of knowing its high-water properties on a given day.

Furthermore, even knowing the stream, one would have no way of predicting if it will even have high water 4 days out.

 

But gathering data and learning what to ask for from rangers and outfitters on the go/no-go day (usually 36 hours in advance of launch, but sometimes right up to that morning) enables an accurate assessment. Props to @@mashmaster for wanting to learn what to look for.

 

Nowadays, cancelling a trip on what would be an otherwise good day puts a youth at risk of getting injured severely while playing PoGo. :mad:

 

So Mash, keep an open mind, but have a plan B (maybe even a plan C) ready for the boys in case that funny feeling you're having does match the hydrology.

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If you have to ask the question on a forum you probably already know that its time to pull the plug on the trip.   At least that's my experience.   

That's a bit of a stretch.  Often enough these questions come because some other adult in the troop says "hey, we've gotten a lot of rain this week, the river is probably higher, do you think we should still go?'  And it's not a question you've given any thought to so you want to do a little research before you voice your own opinion. The beauty of posting on a forum like this is you can get some ideas, good or bad, and you don't have to go back later and tell the person whether you followed their advice.

 

Take a look at how many people post in here in winter time with concerns about cold temperatures and snow on camping trips.

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OK, I have gathered a ton of data.  We are here in Austin and I have talked to a local venture advisor who is a major canoer (sp?).  He recommends 2500 cfm as the upper limit for inexperienced youth in canoes.  We have a plan B which in not to do the Plan A river paddle and to do a lake paddle which will not encounter the flow rates and debris that the river would.  

 

Thank fully we have a lot of realtime USGS flow meters in our local rivers so we can monitor the flow rates.  I talked to a Hydrologist (a did in the troop who works for USGS) and he pointed me to the most accurate data and forecasts for water flow.  I am getting all this info to our PLC for them to make an informed decision.  If the rates are above a certain point, Plan A will not be a choice for safety reasons.  

 

I don't think that asking the question means we should cancel the trip or not.  I was gathering info to make sure our PLC was well informed for their decision.

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@@mashmaster, flow rate is probably not the correct question. The flow rate of the Mississippi river is 36M cfm at the mouth. Other than than the large boats it's probably fine to canoe on. Our little river in town is currently 4800 cfm and you can safely ride a car tube on most of it. Four days ago it peaked at 21k cfm. In June it peaked at 180k cfm (not too much below flood stage). Other parts of the river are never safe in a canoe as there are serious narrow and steep drops (class 5+).

 

So, it depends on the particular part of the particular river at the particular time you're on it.

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@@mashmaster, flow rate is probably not the correct question. The flow rate of the Mississippi river is 36M cfm at the mouth. Other than than the large boats it's probably fine to canoe on. Our little river in town is currently 4800 cfm and you can safely ride a car tube on most of it. Four days ago it peaked at 21k cfm. In June it peaked at 180k cfm (not too much below flood stage). Other parts of the river are never safe in a canoe as there are serious narrow and steep drops (class 5+).

 

So, it depends on the particular part of the particular river at the particular time you're on it.

 

OK, makes sense.  This data was based on people knowledgeable of our local waterways and conditions.

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Not so sure that it's that far of a stretch or absurd to question the ability to supervise an activity based on the information provided in this thread.    Knowing what you don't know and asking the question is good, not knowing the limitations is outside the zone where reasonable folks would say sure go ahead you have qualified supervision in place.   And if you don't know how the route reacts to various flow scenarios I'd just say lets find something else to do is prudent and smart.  

 

http://www.scouting.org/Home/HealthandSafety/incident_report.aspx down at the bottom has a couple of things you may want to review.   Along with the first point of Safety Afloat.       

 

Qualified Supervision 
All activity afloat must be supervised by a mature and conscientious adult age 21 or older who understands and knowingly accepts responsibility for the wellbeing and safety of those in his or her care and who is trained in and committed to compliance with the nine points of BSA Safety Afloat. That supervisor must be skilled in the safe operation of the craft for the specific activity, knowledgeable in accident prevention, and prepared for emergency situations. If the adult with Safety Afloat training lacks the necessary boat operating and safety skills, then he or she may serve as the supervisor only if assisted by other adults, camp staff personnel, or professional tour guides who have the appropriate skills. Additional leadership is provided in ratios of one trained adult, staff member, or guide per 10 participants. For Cub Scouts, the leadership ratio is one trained adult, staff member, or guide per five participants. At least one leader must be trained in first aid including CPR. Any swimming done in conjunction with the activity afloat must be supervised in accordance with BSA Safe Swim Defense standards. It is strongly recommended that all units have at least one adult or older youth member currently trained in BSA Aquatics Supervision: Paddle Craft Safety to assist in the planning and conduct of all activities afloat. 

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First you need to determine the skill level of the group that you are taking canoeing.  You should have minimum 1 full day of experience on flat water before doing any moving water.  After that, my general experience is that scouts can move up to the next 1/2 class of whitewater after 1 full day of experience (up to about class III-, where it takes more experience and training to continue to improve).  So general guidelines are:

 

1 day on flat water (should have the 4 basic strokes mastered before moving on - forward, backwards, draw, pry)

1 day on class I

1 day on class I+ (should be able to enter and exit eddies and perform both backwards and forward facing ferries before moving on)

1 day on class II

1 day on class II+

 

 

Onto your specific trip, you should consult a whitewater guide book (or check online) on the river and see what the difficulty rating is at different flow rates and what normal (recommended) flows are.  For example, my local river where we take the scouts canoeing has 7 class II rapids at normal flows.  However, it is harder not only at higher flows (several rapids merge together into one 1/2 mile long rapid) but also at lower flows as well (the drops get bigger).

 

 

Next you want to check what the actual flows are on the day of the trip and make sure that the river will be appropriate for your group.  Good places for checking flows are http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/rtor http://dreamflows.com/.  Some state or local agencies will even calculate and post river flow forecasts.

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That's an absurd statement.

The people who ask questions like this are the ones who I want to lead my youth on the designated weekend.

 

Not knowing the stream's location, we have no way of knowing if it even is carrying high water. Thanks to internet guages, we sometimes can look it up, but even so, we have no way of knowing its high-water properties on a given day.

Furthermore, even knowing the stream, one would have no way of predicting if it will even have high water 4 days out.

 

But gathering data and learning what to ask for from rangers and outfitters on the go/no-go day (usually 36 hours in advance of launch, but sometimes right up to that morning) enables an accurate assessment. Props to @@mashmaster for wanting to learn what to look for.

 

Nowadays, cancelling a trip on what would be an otherwise good day puts a youth at risk of getting injured severely while playing PoGo. :mad:

 

So Mash, keep an open mind, but have a plan B (maybe even a plan C) ready for the boys in case that funny feeling you're having does match the hydrology.

 

Actually, I think Richard has good instincts. The flow rate is relevant mostly if one also takes into account the cross-section, gradient, roughness, and a good personal knowledge of the stream combined with good judgment is what is needed, not some arbitrary discharge number. I have watched several near disasters after the trip took bad advice from people who are not familiar with the stream. No one should take lightly the power of moving water, no matter what, and if there is any hesitation on the part of the leader, it might be time to seek one of those other plans.

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We once had a trip on the Peace River in Florida (the name is a clue to its passiveness) after a heavy rain had caused it to record floods and then gone down (some). It was a challenge in that the banks had the tops of trees that were normally underwater and the best landings were unavailable. The current was a little unpredictable. Also we got stuck at a bridge where there was a log jam and little clearance underneath because the water was still high. So yes check with the local outfitter especially the reports of those who just did it.

 

That all said our main issue were dozens and dozens of crabby Gators on the banks and the newbie canoe that rammed one--scared that poor critter! Memorable trip.

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If the river is rising towards the recommended max, stay away.

 

If the river is high and into the strainers (standing timber, downed logs creating obstacles in the current) it's very dangerous.

 

If this is a flowage that floods regularly (not as much debris), and is on the way down, it shouldn't be a problem.  Some rapids that are a challenge at regular levels may be washed out and easier at high levels; but some twists in the channel that are usually calm at low levels, may become swirls, hydraulics,or pillows at a higher level.

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