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Is it safe to kayak in flood water? Here you will find the answer


by Thomas Moore

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The weather and water conditions are important if you plan to go kayaking. The water’s conditions can change frequently, making it unpredictable and even dangerous. So, you must always be aware of them.

One of these water conditions is when the water is flooding and the level is higher than usual. Many paddlers sometimes ask and wonder: Is it safe to kayak in flood water? Or can I kayak when the water level has risen? So, in this article, I will answer this question, describe the hazards that are present in high waters, and give you some safety precautions to follow.

Additionally, in this post, you will find some advice. And you will know how to stay safe if you get caught in the floodwaters.

kayaking in flood water

Is kayaking in floodwaters safe? The answer

Kayaking in floodwaters is not safe. Additionally, it can be dangerous. Many people don’t even think about it or know how dangerous it can be. When you swim in flooded water, you may encounter many dangers. 

You will be able to avoid some of them, but not all of them, and you will not always be able to avoid the danger. And if you get into one of the dangers, you could injure yourself severely and damage your kayak. There’s also a chance you’ll flip over and lose your stuff.

So I strongly advise against swimming in flooded water, and I don’t recommend it. As I wrote earlier, there are many dangers there that are better avoided.

Why should you avoid kayaking in flooded areas, and what dangers exist there?

Above, I have mentioned that it is dangerous to swim in floodwater because you can encounter many dangers. In this part of the article, I will write about these dangers and explain why it isn’t safe to kayak in flood water.

To begin with, flooding means that the water level will be higher than usual. And this means that many things that were on the ground may now be in the water with the flow of the river, and they may get in your way as you kayak. Larger objects like trees and flotsam that used to be on the shoreline are frequently seen floating down rivers. 

Also, you may encounter on your way a lot of branches that can cause damage to you and your kayak, or you may get stuck in them.

Since the water level is higher than usual, some rocks that were previously visible are now underwater. So there is a chance that, at high speed, you can crash into a rock that is under water.

Sometimes, extra water can modify the nature of certain river features, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The current in flooded rivers and waters is very strong and unpredictable, so controlling your kayak will be much more difficult than usual, especially if you are a beginner. 

A large rock that was once a stable eddy may now become a terrible hydraulic, or the previous terrifying hydraulic may have been totally flushed over or is now a component of a rather benign wavetrain.

Another risk I can mention is that wires that should be above water may be submerged. Or, for example, branches that used to be higher are now lower and prevent you from swimming further.

Trees that are floating near the shore and form a wall are also a problem. And when you want to get out of the water and get out of your kayak, you can’t do that.

Flooding under the Old Route 49 bridge
Flooding under the Old Route 49 bridge

I personally have no desire to go kayaking in the river that you see above, which is the reason why it isn’t safe to kayak in flood water.

There is a high risk to flip over

Imagine that you are floating in your kayak in high water and randomly flip over. Thus, you are completely in the water.

The fact that you are completely in the water is very dangerous, and the biggest danger is the fast-flowing water. It will be very difficult to swim in the water, and it will also be impossible to return your kayak to its normal position and climb into it. 

The water is moving too fast for anyone to go in front of you and set up a throwline rescue, and it is moving too fast for anyone to save you from a boat. The risk is that the paddler will get stuck on a branch, tree root, or other underwater barrier.

To sum up, it isn’t safe to kayak in floodwater because there are a lot of dangerous things, such as rocks or ground that is submerged and you can crush on it, and submerged wires. The water is moving more quickly than usual, making it harder to control your kayak and more possible for it to capsize.

As a result, I don’t recommend kayaking in floodwaters.

Avoid kayaking alone and follow these safety precautions

Now that you have an idea of what hazards can be found in floodwaters, you have to follow safety precautions. The first and very important recommendation is to not kayak alone.

If you are a beginner paddler, you should go kayaking with someone so someone can help you if anything happens. Even experienced paddlers sometimes have some problems. But you have to understand that kayaking alone is riskier than kayaking in a group.

But if you are the kind of person who likes to paddle alone, then you should at least have a lot of experience. Also, you should always follow safety precautions and always tell your family, your friends, or acquaintances that you are going kayaking.

Another tip I can point out here if you go paddling alone is that you should always keep an eye on the weather. You can keep track of the weather on the National Weather Service website.

Also, you have to find a suitable destination to kayak, and as I wrote before, it can’t be a floodwater river. This place that you choose should have calm water and be free of strong winds. Additionally, it’s advised that this location be suitable for the launching and landing of your kayak.

And finally, as always, while paddling, you must always wear a US Coast Guard-approved PFD or life jacket that will fit you perfectly and in which you can go out comfortably and feel comfortable.

You must know how to avoid capsizes

The risk of capsizing in your kayak will always be present, even if you aren’t in floodwater. There are times when the river has strong currents, so even if you are not in flooded water, you should know how to avoid capsizing. Even in calm water, there is a risk of capsizing in your kayak.

There are numerous methods and techniques for preventing a kayak from flipping. Here are some tips to keep you from flipping over in your kayak:

  • Simply use a wide kayak. Wider kayaks are better options for preventing capsizing since they are more stable in the water. Also, this option is great for beginner kayakers.
  • You have to evenly distribute the weight in your kayak. Because you will most likely be carrying personal items, you have to distribute the weight evenly throughout the kayak. If there is more weight on one side, your kayak will tilt to that side, and there will be a higher chance of flipping.
  • Paddle perpendicular to the waves. If you like to swim in the ocean, where there are waves, you must swim perpendicular to them. Waves that hit the side of your kayak can cause you to flip over.
  • Control your movements. Any movement can cause your kayak to rock, which could lead to leaning and an eventual loss of balance.
  • Use techniques to avoid capsizing. There are techniques that, using your paddle, you can use to prevent a kayak flip. These techniques are a low brace and a high brace.

In the article below, I have described these techniques. I have also left a few videos with explanations of low and high braces. So, take a look at it.

Do kayaks flip over easily? How to prevent a capsize and what to do if this happens.

However, if you capsize and end up in the water, you must know how to re-enter your kayak. Below is an awesome video with an explanation of how to get inside the kayak from the water.

Video with an explication of how to re-enter a kayak

I highly recommend that you practice re-entering. If you do fall over and your kayak capsizes, it will guarantee your safety. Before you ever need to do something in real life, you must practice.

Let’s summarize

The answer to the question “Is it safe to kayak in flood water?” is no. There are numerous hazards in high water, such as trees and other debris that was on the shore but is now floating in the water. And this is only one example of the dangers that are present in flood waters.

Additionally, after reading this article, you now know some safety tips that you should follow when you go kayaking. You also know that in floodwater, the flow is much faster than usual, increasing your chances of losing your balance and capsizing. So, you have to know and learn ways that will help you prevent a flip in a kayak.

And finally, practice re-entering before going kayaking. With practice, you will know what to do if you capsize, and everything will be okay!

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Written by:

Hi, my name is Thomas, and I am a kayaker with over a decade of experience. I enjoy this outdoor water activity and also enjoy writing posts for this blog that help people learn more about kayaking.

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