How to Increase Safety On the River

It is always sad to hear of fatal accidents occurred during river descents. Or, if someone you know has disappeared in the river. But the worst experience for a canoeist is surely when someone from your group disappears right in front of you. In addition to the community of grieving canoeists, every fatal accident is accompanied by an enormous pain of the whole family and all the loved ones who will suffer for the loss.

Recently, this chain of suffering has repeated itself in different circumstances. Too many families are destroyed, and too many friends lost in the river environment. These things should not happen in sports and entertainment.

Why these accidents happen and what can we do to limit them? After consulting with many experienced canoeists and with the help of some scientific risk analysis principles, we put together some reasonings and concepts that, if understood and applied, can significantly limit the risks of canoeing.

The Risk in the River

When we drive along the road, we generally do not think that if we lose control of our vehicle, we could face deadly dangers such as trees, houses, other vehicles, etc. They are everywhere. However, we don't take much notice as we are confident enough that we will not lose control of our car/bicycle/boat.

The river is not so different from the road; the potential risks are everywhere as well. We aren't just talking about siphons, niches, and trees but also rocks where we could get stuck or walls where we could bang our heads and lose consciousness. Even on the river, we don't think about the dangers if we are confident enough to control the line of our kayak properly.

We shouldn't forget that these risks can bring much more serious consequences, and it is often a matter of a moment — unfortunate randomness or coincidence could turn into a tragedy. This awareness could be a heavy thought, but forgetting it could be a fatal mistake. One of the first steps to increase safety while going down the river would be to remember that with every mistake, there is a greater or lesser probability of incurring a serious accident.

River rescue techniques

Increasing knowledge in terms of security techniques is undoubtedly useful, and everyone who lives near the river should know how to throw a rope, be ready to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and many other methods taught in the many safety courses. However, even driving a super-equipped car, if you hit a tree at high speed, you have no chance to survive.

Rescue techniques can often solve some situations and can often limit the damage, but their application is usually difficult in an environment as diverse and particular as the river. The time available is often very limited, such as, for example, if a person is stuck underwater. The possibilities of intervention can be reduced. The circumstances of past accidents that happened to canoeists prevented interventions from being resolved, and the comrades on the descent could only call for help without any possibility of intervening in time. Rescue techniques are undoubtedly useful and necessary, but they are not the only answer to reducing such accidents.

Consider the Risk Prevention

We have said that the river has potentially deadly risks, more or less visible and frequent depending on the type of the river bed. The rocks, the presence of trees, the level of water, and a thousand other factors can influence the risks present in a stream. It is essential to understand where these risks are to avoid them but even more important is to think that many dangers are often invisible.

Having said that we could start to think that every time something is wrong in a rapid, there is a potential accident hazard. This risk can be very low if you deal with grade II river with deep water, and it is certainly higher in the case of swimming in 5th-degree rapids. Every time a canoeist loses control of the canoe and flips over or leaves the boat, they run a potential danger.

This simple concept leads us to arrive at an equally simple conclusion: the more mistakes are made in the river, the more risks are taken. The total risk we run when we go downhill is the multiplication of the dangers in the river due to the number of mistakes we could make. No one can think of never making mistakes, and no river can be considered to be safe, so there is no risk. Be aware that every time we enter the river, we run risks. It is an important step, and even more important is knowing how to assess the magnitude of these risks. We aren't arguing that we don't have to go down in the river anymore, but we are convinced that for a fun sport like canoeing, risk must be lower than when we drive a car.

Understanding this risk concept can make us more aware of our choices and prevent many accidents. Only a correct and honest assessment of our abilities, combined with the equally correct knowledge of river risks, can really clarify the actual dangers we run. If a canoeist aims to go down the rivers, it is necessary that they improve their technique to face greater dangers with less probability of error. Physical training, learning modern techniques, good equipment, and the ability to read the river, are the keys to securing your life and living the river with respect and satisfaction.

We have often seen canoeists who faced passages or rivers above their abilities, swimming several times with each descent. Generally, nothing happens, and the stories in front of the fire are always exciting, but we are convinced that this type of attitude is a way of considering the river not very respectful and risky. When you realize that you have passed your skill limit, it would be important to learn to take a step back and continue paddling in rivers where you feel confident and focused, and the mistakes you make are very few.