Monthly Archives: July 2011

Dogs on River Trips: Tips and Tricks

A constant companion on our river trips is our dog, Zipper. She’s a black lab and loves river trips. What’s not to love: water, family, sticks, wild animals and dropped smores? It’s a river dogs dream.

We’ve learned some tips and tricks on making a dogs’ river trip even more enjoyable.

1. Buy a Good Life-Jacket. It might seem silly to have a life jacket for a dog but even though most dogs are great swimmers, they need one on a river. Dogs don’t have a lot of fat and sink easily in rapids. Do em a favor and buy a life jacket.

The first doggie life jacket we bought lasted about half a season. It seemed like it was well made and was definitely easy to use, however the front straps came loose after 3 river trips.

As with most things in life we learned you have to spend more to get more. My brother bought his dog a life jacket made by Ruffwear. It cost around 50 bucks but he uses his even more than we do and it’s still in great shape.

ruffwear life jacket
Zipper’s new ruffwear life jacket

We followed suit after our first one died and are very happy with our Ruffwear doggie life jacket.

2. Bring a leash and Stakeout. It seems counter-intuitive to have a leash on a river trip…leash laws on a river? But it’s not for legality but sanity. You don’t want your dog running around a busy put-in while you’re trying to load your raft.

Not only will you piss off other boaters, you’ll also put your canine in danger of being hit by cars backing in raft trailers.

While were floating the river we don’t use the leash but when it’s time to camp we sometimes bring it out to keep Zipper out of our way while were setting up.

At bedtime we usually use a stake-out, driven into the sand with a long strap and leash attached and put Zipper near our sleeping area. We don’t put it too close, otherwise she’ll end up in the sleeping bag with us.

The stake-out not only keeps her out of our bedding but also keeps her from wandering, checking out all the various smells and night critters.

stake out
Stake out with orange flag to help us find it in the sand

Bring extra food and treats. When dogs are on rivers they play hard, they need extra nutrients to keep going.

We always feed her an extra cup of food with her morning and evening meals. We also have treats readily available and give those throughout the day. It keeps her energy up for those long summer days.

Bring a small poop shovel. Be sure to respect the river and bury any droppings your best friend leaves.

I know dogs are animals, but they’re not indigenous to the river corridor and their poop shouldn’t be left on beaches.

Zipper loves river trips and we love taking her. She’s part of the family and we would consider any river trip without her sub-par.

The little tricks we’ve learned over the years have helped to make Zipper’s trip and ours smooth and easy.

Swimming Rapids: The best way to get Comfortable in the River

no swimming
Just say Yes to Swimming

Creative Commons License photo credit: Robb845

The next time you’re on a river trip, think about swimming…a lot. Swimming rapids, even small riffles helps you feel more comfortable in the river. An added bonus: you’ll have a better chance of staying calm if you happen to fall in, and it’s a ton of fun.

Before you jump in though, be sure you know the section of river you’re on. You don’t want to jump into a rapid you’ve never seen, you don’t know what might be around the corner, or what hidden dangers exist.

By swimming riffles and rapids you’ll gain a greater understanding of what river currents feel like. Not only will you feel more comfortable if you fall in but it’ll also help you understand how to read rivers. If you’re a better river reader, you’ll become a better river runner. Whether your kayaking or rafting, swimming the river will improve your skills.

Start Small

You don’t need to jump into some big nasty rapid, pick something small and harmless. Even the smallest riffles are a blast to swim. Of course you’ll need to be wearing your life jacket at all times, but that actually makes it even more enjoyable.

When you’ve swum a few rapids start trying to move around in the water. Move from the center of the river to the side. Try to catch an eddy.

Feel what happens to your body when you hit the eddy line. It may freak you out at first but go with the flow, keep a light heart and soon you’ll be giggling.

During my years as a kayak instructor on the Rogue river, I used to have all my students swim lots of rapids.

Attitude Adjustment

Sometimes the students were scared of kayaking. They didn’t like the idea of flipping over and feeling trapped in their kayaks. By getting them out of their boats and swimming, they remembered how tame the river really is.

Swimming rapids not only did wonders for their attitudes but also helped them understand the currents that were constantly acting on the edges of their kayaks making them better kayakers.

Swim with the Kids

Swimming rapids is also great for getting kids comfortable with rivers. Put them over the side with life jackets securely fastened and slip in beside them.

Hold hands as you bounce through the riffles. If they get panicked help them by telling them when to breathe.

Sometimes kids breathe right when they hit a wave and gulp some water. Calm them down and help them recover. Soon they’ll be having a blast and want to swim every rapid.

Kids and Inflatable Kayaks: When to let them go Solo

Katie and her boat
Inflatable kayaks are great fun for kids

Creative Commons License photo credit: Mike Miley

We’ve been taking our kids down rivers since they were in diapers…literally. We’d plunk em next to an adult riding in front of the raft and take them through the rapids.

My wife and I are accomplished rowers so our confidence in keeping the kids’ safe is high. We also know that if they fall overboard we’ll be right there with them keeping them safe.

Now that they’re getting older they want to get out of the mother raft and start taking their own boats downstream…inflatable kayaks.

They’ll be almost completely on their own, their paddling skills and river running sense the only thing keeping them safe.

We feel good about them venturing into their own boats though because we’ve done everything we can to prepare them for solo boating.

Here’s a short list of skills every kid-paddler should have before venturing off into their own inflatable kayak:

1. Excellent swimming skills. This seems obvious, but before a kid can be alone in an inflatable kayak they should be good swimmers. This doesn’t mean good swimmers in the pool, but in the river too.

The river has currents and waves and rocks, kids should be able to swim strongly through the water and be able to stroke away from obstacles. Of course they’ll have life jackets on, but they still need to be able to maneuver around the river with their swim strokes.

2. Basic river reading skills. Reading the river is the art of understanding what’s happening with the river currents. Understanding river features like waves and holes and eddies is essential to taking the best, safest route through the whitewater.

easy river rapid
Where would you go?

Kids don’t need to be experts, (it’s a lifetime learning process) but they should be able to figure out the safest route through a rapid with a quick glance. If in doubt, they should be mature enough to ask for direction.

3. Inflatable kayak handling. Kids usually pick up on this very quickly, but knowing how to paddle an inflatable kayak is important. Understanding how to turn and how to paddle straight using basic paddling strokes usually comes pretty quick to kids.

Let them paddle around in flatwater, or through little class 1 or 2 riffles and see how they do. Don’t put them in potentially dangerous situations.

Once they’ve been paddling for an hour or so and are getting the hang of things put them through some drills. Tell them to spin the boat in circles. Have them turn 90 degrees and paddle to a designated spot. Send them into small river eddies and let them feel what happens when the inflatable kayak hits the eddy current. Experience matters.

4. Getting back into a flipped over inflatable kayak. Chances are your kids will flip the boat once in awhile. They’ll need to know what to do and how to get back into the kayak without having to swim all the way to shore. The best way to do this is practice. Whenever they’re in a flat stretch of water have them practice over and over until they’re confident.

Be sure they understand the importance of hanging onto the paddle if they flip. It’s a lot easier to put everything back together if the paddle isn’t floating off downstream.

These 4 points are essential for having a safe and fun day of river running. It sounds like a lot of steps to understand, but the information comes quickly when you spend any amount of time on rivers.

If your kids are apprehensive about solo inflatable kayaks,  jump into the boat with them to make the transition easier. Once they get the hang of it though, they’ll be kicking you out and they’ll be on their own.

It’s always a good idea to keep young inflatable kayakers close to the mother ship. If they get in over their head, you want to be close by to lend a hand.