Doug takes the shot

This is a slighty reworked version of an article that appeared in the Trasher, the Kingfisher Canoe Club’s newsletter.

Paddling is all about being on the water right? Well yes, however when running a white-water river, there are certain things that should be done from the bank, especially if you want your decent to be a safe one. Here are five things to do bankside for you to think about:

1. Before you hit the water.

Before you get anywhere near the river you should have had a little think about your plans.

  • Do you know where the get-in and get-outs are?
  • How familiar are you with the river you’re paddling?
  • Are you comfortable with the difficulty of the river and the ability of those you’re paddling with?
  • Is all your kit in good order? This includes both your personal paddling gear and shared group equipment.

Remember a guidebook can give you general information but you should be evaluating you decision to paddle based on your, and the rivers, condition on the day. Right up until you leave the bank. What was a gentle paddle yesterday might can only take a night of rain to become a raging torrent that you might not find so easy today.

2. Inspecting.

Of course not all rapids need inspection and the great majority of those that do can be done so from your boat. But there will always be some that you’ll want to get out and take a look at from the safety of the bank. Always inspect from a safe position, don’t take any unnecessary risks trying to get a better or different view. Remember at the very least falling in the river is extremely embarrassing and could be a lot worse.

Looking at a difficult rapid will give you a better idea of whether you’re up for it or not and allow you to plan your lines. And remember if you’re not up for it then there’s no shame in…

3. Portaging.

If a rapid isn’t for you today don’t worry, nine times out of ten you can walk around it. Remember try to make your portage as simple as possible. Rather than balancing along a six inch-wide ledge, take the long way round if it’s safer. Boats can be heavy and portage trails aren’t the easiest of paths at times so get a friend to help if you need to.

Finally once you’ve decided to portage, don’t let anyone talk, bully or shame you into running something you’re not comfortable with.

4. Safety.

Whether your entire group runs a rapid or just one person does then you need to decide whether safety cover is needed on the bank. If it is required then you need to decide on what form it should take; will one person at the bottom with a throw line suffice or does someone need to be at that eddy half way down? 

Safety techniques are beyond the scope of this post, but you should be versed in those that are suitable for the type of river you are running. A good white-water safety and rescue course will do wonders in brushing your skills up as would reading “White Water Safety and Rescue” by Franco Ferrero (ISBN13: 978-0954706159).

Even if everyone in your group is going to run the rapid don’t be afraid to ask someone to get out and provide safety cover for you if it makes you more comfortable.

5. Capture the moment.

Obviously the most important reason for being on the bank when running a river is to get those photos and videos that allow you to show the rest of the world what gnarly rivers you’ve been running! You won’t be able to take pictures of yourself though; someone else will have to get out for that. The same rules apply as when you’re inspecting and portaging; don’t expose yourself to any unnecessary risk.

Cameras aren’t the only way to capture an image. It may not be digital but memories are harder to accidently delete. So if you want to get out and watch your buddies run particular rapid; why don’t you?*


I’m sure you can think of other reasons to be on the bank, there’s a reason dry suits have that particular zip after all! But no matter what the reason, don’t be afraid to stop and get out of your boat once in a while; sometimes the view’s better from the bank.

Add a comment with any suggestions for other bankside activities below.


*Not if you’re paddling with me and we’re on a 3 rivers a day mission though!

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