Canoeing and Kayaking down the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway (LWSR) is a truly incredible and scenic experience. Just shy of 93-miles in length, the LWSR is the longest free-flowing section of river in the Midwest. Although this outdoor recreational gem is a treasured piece of the state’s driftless region, it can also be dangerous. Conquer the WI River with these basic river safety tips, and stay safe on your next expedition.
It pays to be prepared. Learn the water you’ll be paddling on, and make sure your skills are sharp to avoid surprises and improve your decision-making.
The Wisconsin River is best characterized by its swift currents and varied depths, which make it great for leisurely paddling trips. The water’s flow, however, is often strong enough to sweep your footing, which can quickly lead to loss of control in the water.
You’ll also spot many sandbars spread throughout the WI River, and it’s common to make a pit stop or even camp on them. Keep in mind that although the water may be shallow near a sandbar, you may only be a few steps away from much deeper water, so use caution in these areas.
Even if you’re an experienced paddler, you can always benefit from a water safety course. These courses help you develop your paddling skills to handle the most common river situations (turning, rolling, etc.), and help prepare you for voyages on the water.
While summer canoe or kayak trips are a blast, it’s important to keep safety first. These simple precautions can make all the difference when out on the water.
First and foremost, wear a personal flotation device (PFD) at all times, when out on the water. Lifejackets save lives – it’s that simple. Paddlers should also wear bright colors, so you’re easy to spot from afar.
Another important safety tip is to ensure weight is properly distributed within your vessel. This helps to prevent tipping and capsizing.
This may seem like a given, but it’s important to keep your wits about you. Drinking alcohol in excess, while on the river is never a good idea. Alcohol dulls your senses and hinders your decision-making ability.
Also, make sure that you’re both aware of and comfortable with your distance to shore. A good rule of thumb is to be capable of swimming to shore from wherever you are on the water – just in case you have to.
Stay on top of the weather, so you don’t get caught in a downpour or storm. It’s unsafe to be on the river in these conditions.
Just as you would before you get dressed in the morning, take a look at the weather forecast to know what to expect from the clouds each day. Be sure to watch the sky, as well. If you feel there may be bad weather heading your way, always err on the side of caution.
If you do find yourself on the river during a storm, you’ll need to get off the water as soon as possible. Find the nearest entry point to shore, and seek shelter. Avoid tall trees and metal structures, if possible.
On the opposite end of the weather spectrum, the sun can pose a few hazards, as well. Be sure to follow these tips on a hot, sunny day.
As the temperature goes up, it’s not uncommon to become overheated while paddling the river. Be sure to have bottled water on hand, and take occasional breaks to avoid dehydration and heat exhaustion.
There’s also a potential for sunburn anytime you spend a day on the river. Apply sunscreen and wear hats/other protective clothing to help keep your skin from frying.
Even if you follow all of these river safety tips, there’s always a chance for an unexpected emergency to occur. Make sure you’re prepared for the worst, so you can enjoy the best – a canoe or kayak adventure on the river.
No matter what, you should always have a handy method to call 911 for emergency assistance. Be sure to have a water-proof container for phones (preferably one that floats) within reaching distance, so you’re able to call for help in a pinch.
Another excellent tip is to pay attention to where you are on the Wisconsin River. As you travel down the water, you’ll pass a series of landings. These landings each have signs that display the benchmark’s name and the distance downstream to the next landing. Pay attention to these markers and distances, as they’ll help emergency services locate you in an emergency situation.
With these tips in mind, you’ll be capable of handling most situations that may arise, while experiencing an exciting WI River paddling trip. Make Boscobel, WI your launching point, and grab a group of your closest friends to embark on your next canoe or kayak adventure.
Learn more about paddling the WI River and find links to river conditions on our canoeing/kayaking page.