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Paddling Hazards on Rivers & Streams

A safe paddler knows what to expect around the bend. These hazards are most common on Ohio's rivers and streams. Some are ever-present hazards that represent an avoidable risk; others are related to weather conditions and water levels  still avoidable if you check your sources before you decide to go paddling.

Floods and Swiftwater

Paddlers should never boat on streams with water spilling out of the banks. High water causes hazards, such as lowhead dams, to become even more dangerous. Unseen obstacles, such as floating logs or submerged trees, may also threaten a boater. Flood levels are monitored throughout the state. Know the water conditions before you go.

Lowhead Dams and Waterfalls 

Know the location of all lowhead dams and waterfalls on the river that you plan to boat. Under no circumstances should you attempt to boat over a dam. Small dams look harmless, particularly in swollen streams, but they are very dangerous because of the turbulence or hydraulic which may form at the base of the dam. Boats as well as people may become trapped in this hydraulic. Carry your boat around the hazard and launch at a safe distance downstream from all dams. Waterfalls should also be scouted and portaged. If possible, scout a river or stream in advance of any boating trip and plan your trip to avoid any dams or river obstructions. 


River obstructions that allow water to flow through them, but which block or "strain" people and boats, are known as "strainers." They are frequently found in the form of overhanging branches and limbs, log jams and flooded islands. All strainers should be avoided, especially in swift water. At low water, overhanging limbs and islands can be avoided and log jams are more exposed. In high and fast water, a paddler may not realize the danger until their boat is stuck or wedged. 


Hypothermia is the lowering of the body's core temperature. It can be caused by exposure to cold water but can also be brought on by chilling winds and wet weather or perspiration. When air and water temperatures combined do not exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit, hypothermia becomes a hazard. Boaters should be prepared for cold air and water by dressing properly, in wetsuits, drysuits, or other protective clothing. Every boater should be aware of the symptoms of hypothermia and be knowledgeable of its treatment. 

Foot Entrapments

If your boat capsizes, do not attempt to stand or walk if you are in swift-moving water. You might slip or be overcome by the current. If your foot gets pinned, the force of the current can push you under the water and hold you there. Always lay back to float in swift water with your feet up heading downstream, and swim to calm water before standing.