What Should You Do When Approaching a Low-Head Dam in a Canoe or Kayak?

Kayaking is a very popular and recreational sport for sea-loving people. If you have a kayak, then you can paddle away to experience the adventure of it on your own. But what should you do when approaching a low-head dam in a canoe or kayak? This article will tell you how to react to this situation.

Kayaking will certainly give you a good time on the water. All you need is just a kayak and you can paddle away for fun and adventure. But the red colored ‘low-head dam’ warning sign might come up suddenly. Though it is avoidable, you must not panic and follow our instructions here to get over the situation.

It is not hard to kayak but evading the ‘low-head dam’ might be something that you have never experienced before. Even it will not be with the kayak manual. All you can do is being prepared mentally and act wisely if it appears.

Why Are Low Head Dams Dangerous to Small Boats?

A low-head dam is a structure made by experts that spans from one side of a riverbank to the other. It blocks the waterway partially by creating a back-up of water. As soon as the water reaches the wall, it faces a drop off that can be 6 to 25 feet high.

It covers the full width of any river. The main purpose to create the dams is to raise the water levels so that the water supplies improve. It also helps the water irrigation process. The fish finder also gets some advantage because of it.

Low-head dams also have a few downsides. It is dangerous for recreation kayakers. While kayaking, you might not get the visuals of a dam. It is tricky to mark where they actually are and when the fall down starts. If you are a beginner and using your beginner kayak, then it will be a bigger challenge for you to avoid it.

The reflection of light will make it difficult for you to measure the depth of a dam. From your eye surface, you will see everything flat though it is not. Even in whitewater kayaking, you may face the same problem with low-head dams.

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The usual low-head dam has a depth of only some feet from the water surface. But it depends on the condition of the river. As there will be no difference in sound, it will be tough to spot it correctly. Besides man-made dams, there are some natural dams that are quite low in height.

The dam generally is not safe option for swimmers, kayakers, or any kind of plays. No matter how slow the kayak speed is, the flow of water can cause serious injury and damage as well. This is why low-head dams are dangerous to small boats or canoes.

What Should You Do when Approaching A Low-Head Dam in A Canoe or Kayak?

You should never be encouraged to perform low-head dam stunts after seeing a TV show or some stunt show. It will be a life risk for you. Here, we will discuss first how dangerous low-head dams are to let you know the risks.

1. Force of Water: The smooth water flow or small drops are not enough to give you the indications of how risky the dams are. Though it is only water, the power of it is sufficient to drag you down all of a sudden.

If you ever fell on the flow there will be no chance to pull yourself back. It does not matter you are on a fishing kayak or a tandem kayak, the water force will never be decreased.

2. Debris: In the water, there is debris and branches that overpower the water flow. These will pull the kayak down no issue how physically powerful you are. Moreover, these can also cause serious injury to you. Even if you protect yourself somehow, your kayak will be damaged for sure.

3. No Escaping Opportunity: The water flow is a continuous thing. There will always be incoming water over the dam. So, in a blink of an eye, you and your kayak will be under the water. Once you are with the dam-flow, there will be no chance to escape or move your kayak elsewhere.

4. Hydraulic Pressure: The continuous water flow over the dam creates hydraulic force. This force is unbeatable for kayaks and canoes. Due to this powerful force, any object will come back towards the dam which is close to the surface.

So, along with the water flow, there will be an invisible force that will work against your kayak. This is a complete trap as you may never think about the hydraulic and the total force will drag your kayak into the dam.

5. Defeats the Best: Strongest kayakers and swimmers have failed while fighting against low-head dams. So, even if you are thinking to beat the sea force then better is to abandon it.

I hope there is nothing left to know about a low-head dam. Now, let’s find how to escape a low head dam if you ever fall in such a situation.

  • If you ever noticed an upcoming dam, the first thing you should try is to move to the closest bank to you. As it is difficult to spot a dam, there will be warning signs way before crossing it. So, you have to keep your eyes open while kayaking or canoeing.
  • If paddling away is not possible then you should jump off the canoe and walk over the dam until you pass the danger zone.

What Precautions Should Be Taken to Avoid A Low-Head Dam?

While you are going for a recreation kayaking or fishing, you must make sure to take a few precautions to be on the safe side.

  • Before kayaking, you must plan the route properly. You may have clear idea about the river; route planning is a must for all.
  • Collect as much maps and guides as possible if you’re a beginner or a non -local.
  • For a natural low-head dam there might not be any warning signs. So, always be careful of it to avoid the dam.

Wrap Up

It is not the wisest option to face a low-head dam willingly. The result of it can be so dangerous that you cannot even think of it. So, while you’re canoeing or kayaking in the river, the best is to avoid a dam and enjoy your time in the water.

While approaching a dam, the main fact is to remain calm and do not lose control over your kayak or canoe. If you learn how to get over the situation, then avoiding or facing a dam will be easier for you. I hope this guide will help you when approaching a low-head dam in a canoe or kayak.