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Respect the River: Tips for Paddling Safety

Ohio's rivers are beautiful  they are also wild places that can be dangerous.


Wear a Life JacketWEAR A LIFE JACKET

No one plans to fall out of a boat. A life jacket helps protect you from unpredictable moments on the water. Once you have fallen into the water, it can be almost impossible to put on a life jacket. Wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times. It is the law for children under 10 years old to wear a life jacket on boats like canoes and kayaks..

Two-thirds of drowning victims are good swimmers, and in the majority of boating-related fatalities, life jackets were not worn. Please don’t become a statistic.


Alcohol remains a primary factor in fatal boating accidents. It impairs your balance, slows decision-making and leads to dehydration. These impairments increase the likelihood of an accident in constantly changing river conditions. It is illegal to operate a watercraft while under the influence.

High Flow - Don't GoHIGH FLOW? DON’T GO

High flow increases the dangers of hazards that you can’t see, like frigid water, boulders and downed trees. Overhanging branches and log jams can form obstructions known as “strainers” that block or “strain” you, flipping your boat and pinning you against the obstacle while water passes by. Many drownings involve strainers and the absence of life jackets.

How do you know if river flow is too high? If it looks like you’d have trouble standing or swimming due to swift currents, or if there’s been a lot of recent rainfall, don’t go. Check flow levels at river gauges in advance of your trip.

Be Prepared for Cold WaterBE PREPARED FOR COLD WATER

Being prepared for cold water can save your life. Cold water immersion has instantaneous consequences and quickly reduces your ability to swim. Wearing your life jacket is crucial.

  • Even on a sunny day, you are at risk of hypothermia if you fall in the water. This is particularly a concern during spring days when the water has not yet had a chance to warm and can easily be below 60 degrees.
  • Avoid cotton clothing. It absorbs water which will lower body temperature.
  • Dress in layers so you can adjust throughout the day and keep extra clothes in a dry bag.