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Science and the Environment

Staying Safe in a Canoe: Expert Offers Tips

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There’s nothing quite like the feeling of sitting back in your seat in a canoe and enjoying the peace and quiet of the Ozarks outdoors as you float down one of many area rivers.  But that scenario can turn deadly if safety precautions aren’t taken.  Missouri Department of Conservation outdoor skills specialist, Greg Collier, said before going out on a river, you should always inspect your equipment and see that each person in the canoe has a personal flotation device that fits.  And be sure to check the weather.

"Flash floods or rising waters can cause water conditions to change quickly," he said.

A 12-year-old boy drowned in the Elk River last Saturday when his canoe washed into a log jam, flipped over and pinned him underwater.  He was not wearing a life jacket.  Earlier in May, a woman, who was wearing a life jacket, drowned when the canoe she and her husband were in overturned, and she became trapped in tree roots.

Collier stressed the importance of wearing life jackets to increase safety on the water.  And he said, if you rent canoes, talk to the outfitters before heading out on the river.

"And make sure that they have informed you of any possible hazards.  They're going to be aware of them, and they can give you important information on trees in the river, water levels, things that will help you safety wise as well as to enjoy your trip," he said.

He also advises having a more experienced person in the rear of the canoe since they’re the ones who steer. 

If you don’t feel comfortable going through a section of river, Collier said there’s no shame in portaging the canoe.  He said to take it out above the danger zone and put it back in below.

The MO Department of Conservation plans two free instructional float trips on the James River in June.  One is for women.  Discover Nature Women:  Canoeing will be held June 16 from 9 am to 4 pm.  The other is designed for families.  Discover Nature Families:  Canoeing will be held June 17 from 9 am to 4 pm.  To learn more or to register, call the regional office at 895-6880.