Kayaking and canoeing are at the top of popular water sports in the United States. They are highly beneficial and can be a great way to get fit; however, there are certain situations when you need to take serious precautions.
You may wonder, what is the leading cause of death for paddlers, and as you may guess. The number one cause is drowning.
Because you are not supposed to head out on the water without a personal flotation device, it may be a surprising fact. However, certain locations on a river where one of these devices is of little use, even if you know you need to wear one.
Among the most dangerous scenarios is if you venture too close to a low-head dam, often called a drowning machine. (Read How Many Calories Do You Burn Kayaking)
These low head dams are the principal areas where drowning occurs. They are difficult to spot, and you could find it too late.
In our guide, you can find all you need about these low head dams. You can learn why they are so dangerous and what you can do to make sure you are not another statistic and get your kayak or canoe out of their clutches.
What is a Low Head Dam?
Low head dams perfectly uniformed drops in a river. They are man structures, which fill the width of a river; they are made to raise water levels, improve water supplies, and improve water irrigation.
It isn’t even just kayakers and canoeists who find them deadly; swimmers are one group in serious trouble should they be approaching a low head dam.
The dangers are often made worse as they are difficult to spot from a kayak or when swimming.
Much in the same, an infinity swimming pool appears to carry on, so does a low head dam, and it appears the river is calm all the way. Besides this, the refraction of light can make them appear shallower than they are.
In some instances, the physical part of a low head dam can be several feet under water. They’re often silent, so there’s no noise to give them away.
While most are man-made, you can find natural ones, and either is deadly.
Even at low speeds, water flowing over the dam is enough to hold kayaks and canoes in turbulent waters on the lower side of the dam.
Where Do Low Head Dams Pose a Hazard?
Low head dams pose a serious threat underneath the surface.
Water flowing downstream of dams sucks swimmers or kayaks into the backwash. These circulating waters are hidden by the boil you may see, yet these don’t show how strong the water pressure is under the surface.
Once you are in the grasps, you have little chance of paddling away from the dam in a kayak.
Is a Kayak Easier to Flip Than a Canoe?
While a canoe is undoubtedly harder to capsize than a kayak, both are quite stable. Kayaks have the advantage of being able to be righted should you experience a rollover.
Many paddlers go on to learn skills when they are under the surface of the water, such as the “Eskimo roll.” Skills such as these provide a means of being able to avoid being stuck upside down in a dangerous situation.
Anyone who is paddling downriver should have a kayak float plan that they leave with someone. When doing this, they should come across these dams, and it is a good way to spot the risks if they don’t know the river.
Maps and guides of the river can also help highlight possible areas you need to portage around.
How Do You Escape a Low Head Dam?
Suppose you are approaching a low-head dam in a kayak or canoe. You have limited options once you first see the warning signs. Here a few things to stay safe from low head dams.
Get Away From the Dam
It isn’t possible to pass across a dam safely. So, it’s important you avoid them as much as possible.
Once you see any warning signs or suspect, you are approaching a low-head dam. Turn your kayak and paddle in the opposite direction right away.
Paddle to Shore
Getting out of the water is essential, and it can be the only safe way to avoid a low-head dam. Find the nearest bank where you can land your kayak and walk around the dam.
Portage Around It
Once you are out of the water, you can circumvent the low head dam. Here, you can portage around it. If you are carrying your kayak trolley, this is easier than carrying it. Make sure to leave enough distance before you get back in the water.
You never know how far the turbulent water and current reaches.
- If you can’t avoid it and walk around the dam that crosses the river, you may wonder what should divers do for their own safety?
- Get out of your kayak as fast as you can, and make no attempt to save it.
- Keep your arms and legs as close to your body as to avoid debris under the water level.
- Break free from the backwash as quickly as you can and float downriver to calmer waters.
- Reach the riverbank as quickly as you can.
- Recover your kayak from a safe position.
Low head dams are dangerous, although they may look like they can be easy to cross. No kayaker, canoer, or person swimming should be temped with the calm waters they offer. (Read A Guide to Kayaking With Dogs)
Even the most experienced paddlers will stop well ahead of these traps to be sure they are in no danger.