River Reading & River Safety for Whitewater Canoeing : Paddle Signals for Whitewater Canoeing


So we talked about the importance of paddling
with other boaters so that you have support on the river. It’s also important to have
a standard set of signals that you can use to communicate with other boaters on the river,
whether they’re in your group or not. So the American Whitewater Association has developed
a series of signals that allow you to communicate with other boaters on the river and pretty
much everybody paddling on U.S. rivers is familiar with these signals and uses the same
ones. If you do get one of these signals give the signal back to the signaler so that they
know that you got it and that you’re going to act on it. The basic signals are these;
the first one is the paddle straight up into the air and what that means is go ahead, its
okay, go straight down the middle, if the paddle goes off to one side that means go
that way, that means head over toward that side of the river. I wouldn’t point toward
an obstruction, so for instance if there were an obstruction over on this side I would point
my paddle to the opposite direction to encourage people to go away from the obstruction. So
we’re never going to point toward a problem or obstruction. So go that way, or go that
way. A horizontal paddle means stop, and that usually means stop right where you are, if
you can catch an eddy stop there, if you’re already in an eddy, stay in the eddy you’re
in. Maybe something is going on downstream, maybe there is an obstruction downstream that
you shouldn’t be paddling through and so that stop signal is an important one to know.
The final signal is this one and this signal means emergency help, and this means come
toward me, you know, come, I need help here, and that’s a paddle waving back and forth
vertically overhead. There’s also another signal, which is not a paddle signal but which
is also pretty universally known and used and that is this, slap, slap, slap, if I signal
to another boater by patting my head, slap, slap, its asking a question, are you okay?
If a boater signals back to me this way, that’s meaning, that means they, they are okay. That
doesn’t mean go ahead, it doesn’t mean run the same rapid that I just ran, it could
just mean that, that boat is okay, but they may immediately put up a stop sign telling
you not to go ahead, because that thing that they just ran, was not, not a good rapid to
run. But either way this, slap, slap, slap, is a good way to acknowledge, that yes, I
am okay. Again, use those basic symbols, pass them back when ones passed to you and stay
together as a group, so you can all support each other.

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