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Paddling Risks for Middle River

Using the American Whitewater Accident Database of reported injuries and deaths in paddling sports, we analyzed the data for Middle River-type paddling.


You often hear us say that Middle River is a great beginner river paddler’s river because Middle River has only Class I and II rapids. And it IS a good beginner river paddler’s river. But, it is not risk-free.


Paddlers have, do and will be injured on rivers just like Middle River. We ran the data for all accidents reported that occurred in the U.S for class I and class II rivers at low or medium water flow. Here are the results of deaths and injuries:


By far the single biggest risk is not wearing a Personal Floatation Device (PFD). The second biggest risk is strainers and rocks. What is “flush drowning?” Flush drowning is when a swimmer is moving downstream through rough water. Repeated dunking and/or being hit by waves causes the swimmer to aspirate repeatedly, then they pass out and drown.


The entire database contains reports of 1397 river deaths over a 47-year period. 127 of those deaths occurred in conditions like Middle River typically presents.

18% of those incidents fall into the “other” category. “Other causes” include:


  • · Caught in a natural-forming hydraulic (non-dam)

  • · Trapped in equipment

  • · Personal health crisis

  • · Impact trauma

  • · Vertical pin

Conditions that can increase extra risk include:

  • · Cold water

  • · Darkness

  • · Extreme weather

  • · Inadequate equipment

  • · Inexperience

  • · Solo paddling

  • · Poor planning

  • · Poor group management

The risks are compounded when your trip includes multiple risk categories such as combining inexperience, cold weather, high water, and solo paddling. Any combination of more than one factor significantly increases the total risk.


Good risk mitigation involves planning details like having an experienced paddler along to compensate for your lack of experience or waiting for the water to clear up so hidden debris can be seen after a storm. Provide a trip plan to a third party who is not on the river in case you don't get out on time so someone knows where to come looking for you and your capsized boat.


We do not want to scare people off from engaging with our river, or from trying new activities. We just want you to find that sweet middle spot between fear and recklessness. And when you are ready to push the edges of your comfort zone and try something new, we want you to know the risks so you can plan for and mitigate them. That is the description of a responsible, planful paddler!


~Kate Guenther


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