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Be Prepared for Safety

Be Prepared for Safety
It could happen at Any Time—Are You Ready?
Earlier this spring, three paddlers were out on the DesPlaines River around Lincolnshire.  Water Levels were high but not anywhere near flood.  Water Temps were still cold, and Air Temps were cool–high of the day in the 50’s.
Not a day anyone would want to take a swim.  
But it can happen at any time.  
Paddler 1 was navigating through a strainer. Paddler 2 followed a bit too closely and got swept sideways to the strainer.  Even a moderate current flipped his canoe within seconds ,sweeping him under the strainer.
Paddler 2 pushed his boat out of the way and climbed aggressively to get on top of the strainer.
Paddlers  1 and 3 tried to reach to paddler 2 with a long branch to pull him to shore.  That didn’t work.(and would have required paddler 2 to get back into the cold water) Paddler 2 did not want to get back into the cold water if he could avoid it so the throw bag option was out as well.
So instead, some rope was attached to the bow of a canoe.  The canoe was floated over to paddler 2.  He got into the boat and was pulled back to shore. All three paddlers got warmed up and paddled the rest of the way without incident.
No One panicked.  All three paddlers had training, including rescue practice to fall back on.  If this happened, would you be ready to help your paddling buddies? Please consider taking appropriate paddling and rescue training to the type of paddling and paddling venues you enjoy!  

June 4 on the Little Calumet River

Celebrate the Little Calumet River with recreation and environment activities and learn about the history and ecology of the Little Cal!

Clean up tools, breakfast snacks and lunch will be provided.

This year we will begin at Kickapoo Woods in Riverdale. Advanced paddlers and those with their own boats are asked to bring them. Those needing a loaner boat and inexperienced paddlers are also invited to attend. There is no charge for this event, but all participants must register in advance, indicating whether or not you are bringing their own boat during registration.

Tentative Schedule

River Clean Up.  9:00am – 12:30pm.  Two teams–one launching upstream, another downstream–for on-water clean up. Return to launch ramp in time for lunch.

Introduction to Canoeing. 9:00am instruction, 9:30-10:30am paddle; 11:00am instruction, 11:30-12:30pm paddle; 1:00pm instruction, 1:30-2:30pm paddle.

Introduction to Kayaking. 9:00am instruction, 9:30-10:30am paddle; 11:00am instruction, 11:30-12:30pm paddle; 1:00pm instruction, 1:30-2:30pm paddle.

Wrap up & Clean. 2:30pm

Sign up now by clicking Register!

Call to All Paddlers: The Chicago Harbor Safety Committee Needs You

By Susan Urbas, Vice President, CHSC

Photo Credit Larry Dostal

I know that the Illinois Paddling Council counts among its membership many paddlers, who, like me as a rower, have several decades of experience plying the Chicago area waterways, particularly the River, under their belts. We know the stark difference between then and now; between the long, slow, steady growth of human-powered and other traffic, and the explosion of all varieties of traffic which has occurred in the last decade. While on the one hand we are heartened to observe the tremendous growth in human-powered craft usage, on the other hand we, and other types of users, are gravely concerned about the safety implications inherent in waterways crowded by a rich diversity of vessels and users operating at widely divergent levels of operational knowledge, skill, and safety practices.

Increasing concerns over safety risks on Chicago area waterways led to a Ports and Waterways Safety Assessment (PAWSA) being conducted by the Coast Guard on March 27-28, 2012. The purpose of the PAWSA was to identify major safety hazards, estimate risk levels, evaluate potential mitigation measures, and set the stage for implementation of selected measures to further reduce risks in the Port of Chicago. PAWSA participants included representatives from marine stakeholder organizations and government agencies at the federal, state and local levels, including law enforcement.

By conclusion of the PAWSA process, it was clear to the participants that a new harbor safety committee structure was needed that would effectively bring together the diverse variety of Chicago waterway users who have mutual interests in the use of navigable waterways, with the agencies which oversee the waterways. The challenge in drafting a charter for this new harbor safety committee was building a structure that at every level ensured the appropriate marine interests would be represented and the appropriate expertise applied to solve problems and educate the public.

(Remember that last sentence as you read on, for the application, as appropriate to the issue at hand, of all of the relevant marine interests and their expertise to solve problems and educate the public is at the very heart of the CHSC. If your voice, expressing its concerns and knowledge are not in the CHSC room, then you, and the marine community collectively, may just as well hand it over to other interests or unenlightened third parties to make decisions about our waterways’ usage).

The Chicago Harbor Safety Committee (CHSC) was formed on July 15, 2013. The CHSC Charter, which required approval of the Coast Guard, was the result of a year-long effort to devise a harbor safety committee for Chicago which suited the nature of this marine community and its waterway challenges. The approved charter emerged from historical elements in the Chicago marine community (its less formal predecessor harbor safety committee, the 12-year old Port Development and Safety Council), best practices gleaned from other harbor safety committees around the country, and many rounds of input from marine stakeholder and government agency representatives.

Despite the heavy workload to get the new organization up and running, the CHSC did not hesitate to take immediate action to improve the traffic safety on the Chicago River. Faced with a rapid increase in the number of “close calls” between commercial and industrial vessels (tour boats and barges) and rental boats (kayaks and electric boats) during the 2013 boating season, the CHSC sprang into action less than a month after its inaugural meeting on July 15th, and proposed a traffic and hazard warning signage plan which received Coast Guard approval. The signage that you now see posted along the Chicago River alerting to hazards, directional instructions, and no wake zones was the result of this collaboration between the CHSC, the City, and the Coast Guard.

Other accomplishments of the CHSC since its formation in 2013 include successful collaboration with the City on Chicago Riverwalk project construction activity; dissemination of numerous safety relevant alerts, documents, and publications; coordination and collaboration on filming and special events projects on the River and Lake; operational modification of the Centennial Fountain; development and presentation of a Chicago waterway-specific safety education presentation; and perhaps most importantly, CHSC’s very detailed and recently released Safety Recommendations and Guide to Rules and Regulations. New projects now underway include development of a web portal for user-relevant safety training and certification.

For more information about the CHSC and how to join as an individual member or marine stakeholder organization member, please drop me a note at info@chicagoharborsafety.com. Pardon our mess while we complete work on our website, www.chicagoharborsafety.com. A couple of weeks from now, that will be the place to go for everything CHSC and Chicago area waterways related.



A History of the Dam Simulator

By Sigrid PilgrimDam Simulator

The dam simulator, which has been displayed during the past 15 years at numerous events, continues to draw much attention. We will never know whether it has saved a life, but we believe that the visualization of the recirculation in a hydraulic has educated many, many people to the dangers of dams.

I have often been asked “where did the dam simulator come from,” so here is a brief history.

Back in 2000 when I chaired Paddling in the Park, the two-day paddlesports festival in Palatine, we used to have a planning session in late winter which Susan Sherrod also attended. She suggested building a dam simulator like her club, the Canoe Cruisers Association, once had. Susan developed the engineering drawings and provided a cost estimate for the parts needed. CWA member Jim Cronin applied for a grant from the Baxter Foundation, and Joel Neuman built the dam.

The rest is history. We received many requests to have the simulator present at various events, including several years at the State Fair in Springfield where it was in then Lieutenant Governor Quinn’s tent. One year we were asked to bring it to St. Louis for the ACA Whitewater Competition at Six Flags, and it was such a success, that we left it there and had another built for the Chicago area again. We still have many requests for the dam simulator from event organizers.

The late Marge Cline took great footage of the dam simulator during Paddling in the Park. We felt that this would be a great teaching tool if there was a way to make a video. Tom Lindblade, a skilled videographer, was able to do just that, adding footage of actual dams, appropriate music, and great educational voice over. The video was subsequently licensed to ACA, given this organization’s greater capacity to promote it through their Safety, Education and Instruction Committee.

We actively promoted the video through email and other efforts, and received many comments, e.g.:

  • From the Association of State Dam Safety Officials: “Do you mind if we make copies as several ASDSO members are intensely interested in low head dam safety issues and I imagine that many states would be interested in using the DVD as part of their outreach activities
  • From IDNR: “It is my firm belief that actions like your video will have far more impact on the safety of the users of our waterways than anything the legislature can mandate”

And many other requests, notably from the Vice President of the European Life Saving Association and faculty member of the Leeds Metropolitan University, who asked to contribute an article for his Handbook of Safety and Lifesaving and for permission to use the video in his lectures at the university.

With the new paddling season starting, please help promote this video again to your club or organization members, to paddlesport retailers, to the press, and anywhere else you can think of.   You can access it on the IPC website www.illinoispaddling.org – on the home page, scroll down to the video link, or click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5ajFJ4tuoA&feature=youtu.be

If you would like to own a copy of the DVD, please send a $10.00 check made out to:

Illinois Paddling Council, and mail to Sigrid Pilgrim, 2750 Bernard Place, Evanston, IL 60201


The Dam Simulator can not only demonstrate the reversal in the hydraulic, but also other aspects:

1)      Modifying the hydraulic (1st photo): This takes some ‘engineering’ time by placing large boulders into the lip of the dam and smaller riff-raff, until the reversal action is broken up. Use one side of the dam with the modification – the other side without – and demonstrate the difference.

2)      Foot entrapment (2nd photo): Standing up in moving water deeper than knee-high can cause foot entrapment: feet get caught between rocks and the current pushes the person’s face over and into the water.

3)      Strainers (3rd photo): Little sticks at the outflow, by wedging them between rocks, and watch what happens when people and objects float into them.




Beware The Fishhook!

By Don Mueggenborgfish hook

It was an early spring day – sun shining, water up a little.

Time to get the rust off, get out on the river. In this case, it was the lower DesPlaines.

We launched at our favorite spot in Lemont and headed upstream. Peanut Butter Andersen in the stern.

When we paddled together, we took turns paddling bow or stern. That way we were more aware of what the other paddler has to do. And the stern paddler doesn’t have to be reminded to call the “hut” because next time he will be in the bow.

About twenty minutes into the trip, we decided to go up Hennebry Creek. A narrow creek that winds from the RR tracks to the river – actually – in the right conditions, we might paddle into the Waterfall Glenn Forest Preserve (never have found the right conditions though).

Saw some beaver signs, birds, and a deer. Great to be out!

Time to head back home.

As we approached the river, we swung under a branch. Fortunately, we were not going very fast.

I felt it – like a sting on the ear. “Dave, I think I know what a fish feels like when he is caught. I think I have a fishhook in my ear.”

Who knows how long that line and hook were dangling from the branch. I guess I was lucky it had been a long time. The line broke without tearing my ear and without pulling me into the water.

Now, we picked up racing speed – to the truck and to the doctor’s office.

“Nurse,” the doctor whispered, “get the pliers out of the janitor’s closet.”

A couple stitches, a tetanus shot. I was free to go.

I was lucky. It could have been an eye. Beware, especially in the spring. Fishermen don’t really want to snag trees and catch paddlers – but it can happen.

Risk Assessment/Management

By Lenore Sabota

Here are the steps that went into what became a U-Turn paddle trip this afternoon. Right from the beginning, we noticed the river had changed. Different channels. Trees down. There was significant flooding in December and several high-wind events and an ice storm since we paddled this section last fall.

  1. First steps in risk management were not paddling solo; dressing for possible immersion; going with someone intimately familiar with the river.
  2. We approached each potential problem area cautiously, such as when we were about to round a corner.
  3. We stayed close together.
  4. If a spot looked tricky, we discussed which line/route looked best before committing.
    • When we got to the final obstruction, we checked various options. The only possible spot to cross was in the middle, but we could see a log just below the surface that looked likely to prevent us from crossing, and potentially could flip us.
    • The water around the tree was fairly deep. We might have been able to climb out on the branches but if we fell, there was danger of being trapped under the downed trees.
    • Even if we got over the obstruction and got our boats over the obstruction, relaunching on the other side looked dicey.
    • Even if we could get back in our boats on the other side, we already had encountered many changes in the river, and there was no telling what was ahead.
  5. Thanks to a GPS we had with us, we knew we’d only traveled a little more than a mile and figured turning back was still reasonable and feasible.
  6. On our return trip, we moved very cautiously in one of the other deadfall places, and we had to get out on a gravel bar and drag our boats around a shallow area where current funneled through narrow spots. You can’t get enough “bite” with your paddle in shallow water to counter the current.
  7. We knew there was another tricky, shallow part we had maneuvered through shortly after we put in. I already knew of a previously scouted place we could take out and still drag our boats back to the parking lot.

Link to Facebook is: https://www.facebook.com/lenore.sobota/posts/980799031998219

Feedback on Mandatory PFD Editorial

In our last newsletter, we included an editorial by Don Mueggenborg regarding the mandatory use of PFDs. The article received the highest “click” rating of all articles in the newsletter, an indication of its interest to many of you. We also received a few comments or rebuttals from readers, and would like to share these with the rest of the TIP audience. Thanks to the authors for sharing their thoughts with us.

One more thing to add to your list.  The situation you first described (90 degrees on a humid day) would be a time when wearing the PFD could lead to hyperthermia and/or dehydration.

Good luck with this.  The state has a way of missing out on common sense solutions.  I think of this when I am driving in the safest vehicle ever made (air bags deploying in all directions of impact, shoulder harnesses, collapsible frame, safety glass, autobraking, etc.) and a motorcycle goes by, the driver not helmeted, wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops.  He is fully in compliance with the law, yet, if I don’t have my seatbelt fastened, I am at risk of getting a $75 ticket.  Go figure.

Steve Thomas

I would like to respond to Don Mueggenborg’s editorial regarding mandatory PFD’s that ran in a recent issue of The Illinois Paddler. In it, Mr. Mueggenborg voices his opposition to a proposed Coast Guard requirement mandating that PFD’s be worn at all times by all boaters. He supports his position with several arguments. While I understand – and in some cases agree with – his arguments, I disagree with his conclusion.

Mr. Mueggenborg’s arguments seem more applicable to skilled, experienced paddlers than to the entire spectrum of paddlers. Many of his points are perfectly valid for skilled paddlers, but far less so for the kind of unskilled paddlers that we frequently see ricocheting from bank to bank with no PFD but plenty of beer. Since there cannot be separate sets of rules for the different types of paddlers, any rule must, of necessity, be one-size-fits-all. Unfortunately, it must also take into account the least common denominator: in this case, all paddlers, regardless of skill level.

I understand his argument that when paddling in six inches of water, a PFD would be of limited value. In such a river, however, there is probably no greater hazard than a strainer, and a strainer that has been there for a long period of time is likely to have scoured out the river bed beneath it. That six inch depth suddenly becomes six feet or more. We are all aware that this can happen and (hopefully) have the reliable skills that we need to avoid it. Unskilled, inexperienced paddlers are at far greater risk. In the situation when they most need flotation, they may not be wearing a PFD. This was a contributing factor to the last three deaths at the Glen Palmer Dam – a hydraulic rather than a strainer, but PFD’s would still certainly have increased their chance of survival.

Even absent the possibility of unforeseen deep spots, leaving to the judgement of the paddler the decision whether or not a PFD is advisable empowers inexperienced and sometimes impaired paddlers to make that decision. Water that is uniformly six inches deep is a pretty easy call. But some may think that two or three feet is shallow enough, not taking into account the current and having no concept of a foot entrapment. Some people will undoubtedly think that they can swim well enough to never need a PFD, not taking into account the possibility of a shoulder injury, a head injury or a medical episode that results in unconsciousness. Again, experienced paddlers usually take all of this into account, but since any rule must apply to all, it must take into account the needs and deficits of all paddlers. Leaving it to the discretion of the individual paddler pretty much guarantees that people with poor judgement will exempt themselves from wearing a PFD.

Mr. Mueggenborg cites the records of the DesPlaines Marathon and the USCA. He states that there have been no incidents at any of their events. If that statistic is accurate, that is testament to their focus on safety and is not applicable to paddling in general. Further, while there may or may not have been any fatalities in these venues, I doubt that close calls or other such incidents are even reported. Finally, while the USCA does not require that PFD’s be worn at all times during events sanctioned by them, they do require that they be worn at all times if the event organizer deems it advisable. My suspicion is that most event organizers do require that PFD’s be worn, making this an argument in favor of mandatory PFD’s, rather than against it.

This same kind of debate raged in the 1970’s, when the Legislature debated mandating that seatbelts be worn in motor vehicles. Those who opposed the requirement argued that the Legislature would be infringing upon their personal freedom and pointed to the possibility – however remote – that a driver could be trapped by his seatbelt in a car that was burning or sinking in a pond. The Legislature enacted the law and highway deaths fell. With the paddling community being much smaller than the motoring public, we will see a much smaller fall, but it is hard to argue that no lives will be saved by requiring that PFD’s be worn while paddling. And like seatbelts, if you are not wearing it when you don’t need it, you won’t have time to put it on when you desperately do need it.

The decision that the Legislature made in the 1970’s and that the Coast Guard is making now is not designed around any particular segment of the population, it is designed to serve the public at large. Some will argue that paddlers have the right to decide whether or not to put themselves at risk, but their decision has far-reaching consequences for the public. If someone dies on the river, there are frequently survivors who will receive Social Security survivor benefits, Medicaid, etc. If the paddler doesn’t die but is deprived of oxygen for too long, he may be eligible for Social Security SSI, Medicaid and other benefits at great public expense for decades. These decisions are not entirely personal and should not be left entirely to the individual. The government has an obligation to balance the public interest against the rights of the individual. The Coast Guard currently has the unenviable job of looking for a reasonable balance, knowing that there will be some on both sides who feel that their rights have been trampled. That was true during the seatbelt debates, and will likely be true for any future similar debate.

In the end, it will not bother me if the Coast Guard requires PFD’s. I am never without mine, even in warm weather and shallow water. I also wear my seatbelt, regardless of how slowly I am driving. If, however, the Coast Guard decides in favor of some lesser requirement, I will accept their decision as having been made in the interest of public policy. I hope that others will do the same, and that it doesn’t descend into the histrionic rhetoric we saw during the WUS debate.

Steve LaPorte

This note is in response to Don Mueggenborg’s October 1 online Editorial regarding a potential regulation for mandatory PFD wear as it pertains to paddlers.

I have not heard of any such pending action from the USCG, so I suspect what was heard may be rumor.  If there are any references to a request for comment for a pending or proposed regulation, I’d be very interested in seeing it.

Even if such a move was in the works, it would not impact Illinois paddlers due to the Exemption of Preemption Regulation in the Code of Federal Regulations, which prohibits Federal Regulations from preempting State regulations for PFD carriage/wear as it relates to Canoes and kayaks:  https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/33/175.5

As well, even if the Exemption of Preemption did not exist, a USCG regulation would only apply to Federal waterways – places where motorized and commercial traffic would frequent.  These places would typically warrant the full time wear of PFD’s and would not typically fit the description presented of shallow inland water trails.  (These would most commonly be sole-state waters.)

Beyond the legalities involved, I would still disagree with the editorial.  PFD’s should be worn at all times by paddlers and in all situations.  The analogy is akin to using a seat belt in a car.  Not using a PFD in shallow water is like saying that one should not use a seat belt when driving in their driveway.  The chances of injury are low, but anything can happen, and the cost of the insurance is almost nothing.  If one becomes incapacitated walking down the street, one may end up laying on the ground until help arrives.  If one becomes incapacitated in water, even shallow water, drowning and hypothermia are real dangers.

Millions of people wear seat belts in their cars every day and don’t get in a crash.  They wear them for that one time – where the unlikely and uncommon event happens.  PFD’s serve the same purpose.

If a paddler finds their PFD cumbersome or uncomfortable, they are probably in the wrong one.  With today’s wide range of styles and inflatable options, there are many different options on the market that can be worn for a variety of paddling activities, all day, and in all weather conditions.  The changes in-progress to the PFD classifications, in the US, should also make this situation even better, as the market broadens and allows manufactures to sell PFD models in multiple countries: http://www.americancanoe.org/?page=PFD_Types

Best Regards,

Gary Markle

Chicago, IL


By Paul Klonowski, ACA Canoe Instructor

One of our new River Stewardship Volunteers for the Lake County Forest Preserves asked this very important question: “I was thinking about going on this clean up, but I was wondering how to dress for canoeing when it is cold out.  Is it possible to be warm?”  At this time of year, it’s always good to review this fundamental question.

Cold water exposure will rob your body of heat many times faster than air at the same temperature, and can cause a person to go into hypothermia very quickly.  This is a critically serious medical condition, and can be fatal in a short time frame.  It’s that serious.

The key to this, that some people don’t really understand, is that you must dress for the water temperature, NOT the air temperature.  The difference between air & water temperature can be huge: a balmy late fall or (especially) early spring day can have 75 degrees air temperature, but the water temperature can be a frigid 35.  Water that cold will render mere humans unconscious in minutes.

Thus, the most critical factor for cold weather paddling is staying dry.  Fortunately, there are some very good options to keep you dry, though they’re not cheap.

A low-end dry suit costs more than $500, and is thus out of reach for a lot of people.  But it will keep you pretty dry, even if you fall into the water.  Here’s one example: http://www.rutabaga.com/kokotat-supernova-paddling-suit  Higher-end versions will include more features, such as “relief zippers,” allowing the wearer to use the bathroom without completely disrobing.

You can also get dry pants and a dry top, or “semi-dry” pants and top.  These 2-piece systems typically run a bit less cash than a full dry suit, and are easier to get into and out of.  That’s what I use.

Both of the options above can be worn with as many layers of insulation (long underwear, fleece, NOT COTTON) as you can fit inside the outer layer.  With both of these options, though, being able to adjust the number of layers you’re wearing is not easy, so knowing how much insulation you need is pretty important.  And remember that your PFD, worn outside the dry suit/top, is a good insulating layer for your upper body.

The next best thing is a neoprene wet suit:  http://www.rutabaga.com/nrs-mens-radiant-wetsuit.  These don’t keep you dry, but they fit tightly to your skin, so if you do fall into the water, only a small quantity of that cold water gets on your skin, and it warms quickly.  These work okay if you only get wet once, but every time you get out of the water, the water inside the wet suit drains out, and if you get in the water again, it gets replaced by cold water…  multiple dunkings can be deadly.  You can wear as many layers of warm clothing on top of the wet suit as you like, but don’t wear anything underneath the wet suit.  Doing so defeats the purpose of the wet suit.

For less extreme conditions, the dry or wet suit options may not be necessary.  Defining what are “less extreme conditions” is largely a personal matter…  if you tend to feel cold when others still feel warm, you will want to use these top-level options at different air temperatures than someone who is less sensitive to feeling cold.  But again, dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.

For insulating layers, cotton is to be avoided at all costs, from undergarments all the way to the outer shell..  Once cotton gets wet, it stays wet, and the water that got it wet is cold.  The best insulating layers are synthetic materials, such as nylon, polypropylene, or synthetic “fleece,” all of which don’t hold water well, and dry quickly.   Beyond the insulating layers, a windproof shell, often nylon (but again, NOT COTTON), is a great addition, as it will keep the wind from replacing warmed air in the insulating layers.  That’s where the dry suit or dry pants & top are at their best.

For most people, their feet get cold before the rest of the body feels cold.  Thus, having warm, dry feet is critical.  In warm weather on the river, I wear neoprene dive-type boots: http://www.nrs.com/product/30017.04/nrs-freestyle-wetshoe, while in cold weather, I wear mukluk-style boots: http://www.nrs.com/product/2308/nrs-boundary-shoe

It’s important to note that footwear like this is pretty good at protecting your feet from the various sharp objects (broken glass, rusted metal, fish hooks) that we often find in the rivers, but you can’t rely on them being waterproof.  Dry pants have “feet” built into them, so you can wear a lot of warm socks inside the dry pants, and wear the boots over the dry pants “socks.”  It works well.

Neoprene gloves can feel a bit thick on your hands, but they’ll stay warm, even if you get water in them. They’re kind of like a wet suit for your hands.

Always ALWAYS ALWAYS have a dry bag with spare clothing, a fleece towel, and a “Space Blanket” to wrap yourself in. If you do get wet, despite all the precautions, you’ll want to get warm & dry as quickly as possible.

Another consideration is the boat you bring. Aluminum boats will transmit the water temperature to your feet, knees, and backside. Bring insulating layers for whatever body parts will be touching the aluminum…

If you show up for a cold weather paddling trip wearing inappropriate clothing, and/or without a dry bag with spare clothing, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to leave. Your failure to prepare jeopardizes the safety of the rest of the group. Nobody likes a chain with a weak link, and you’d be the weak link.

This all represents a significant investment in specialized clothing, and each individual needs to make their own choice.  What it really comes down to is your personal decision regarding what are your limits, your “comfort zone,” and whether you dress appropriately for those conditions.  Remember, cotton kills.

Remember that NOBODY is expecting anyone to paddle outside their comfort zone.  If you think it’s too cold for you to go canoeing, that decision must be respected, with no exceptions.  I’m comfortable canoeing down to somewhere around 25 degrees, but most people are happier with a warmer air temperature. And remember, the water temperature can be really cold!

Be very careful if you decide to push your personal limits.  Paddle with a group of experienced people who know the particular river you’re on, are prepared for the possibility of immersion, know how to recognize hypothermia, and know how to deal with it.

Keep an eye on your map, so you can figure out where to tell the paramedics to find you. Last time I checked my local services, they don’t work off GPS coordinates; they need addresses, or road names & traditional map locations, like “We’re on Rte 173, half a mile east of Rte 41.” And a GPS may not work well when the batteries get cold.

The rivers are beautiful places in the winter, and are even more so after a blanket of new snow. Unfortunately, they can be as deadly as they are beautiful, but having appropriate clothing and equipment can help you enjoy them. As Marge Cline taught us, “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”

I hope this answers questions about cold weather paddling; if others have input on this matter, please chime in.  If you have more questions, please ask!  The only dumb questions are the ones you don’t ask…

Never Underestimate the Power of a River

By Don Mueggenborg

A fast current – a good ride. You go flying down the river faster than you ever have.

June 2015.   The spring season was wet. There was rain almost every other day. The Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon had rain forecast, but the rain held off until after the race. The Mid-America Canoe Race had a downpour right before the start, but after a 20-minute lightning delay, the rain stopped and the day was great.

But it continued to rain on and off.   Then on the night of June 15, it poured. Some areas got 4 or 5 or even 6 inches of rain. Rivers rose higher than they had been all spring.

The Fox River was closed. Yellow tape closed parts of the Naperville Riverwalk. Time for caution! In fact, we marveled at the fast current flowing through overhanging branches while at the riverwalk. I had never seen the DuPage so high and fast.

If I understand correctly – 3 people rescued Tuesday from the DuPage in Naperville – Three more on Wednesday and another on Thursday.

Rescuers were put at risk because some people did not use good judgement.

In high, fast, and/or cold water, always wear a PFD.


  1. When the rivers rise, tree branches that were high over the river now become flow-throughs (strainers). Water goes through the branches, you do not!
  2. With fast current, you do not have the control you have at a normal river level. You cannot avoid those branches.
  3. There are no banks – water now flows through the trees that were on the banks. The swift current means you and your boat will be pinned against a tree before you can get to shore. (One year, my partner and I rescued a couple women who had overturned in fast water during a race – we drifted with them for over a mile before we were able to find a place to get them out of the water.)
  4. You do not have much control on an inflatable raft or tube. (The rivers to raft, such as the Wolf in Wisconsin or the Vermillion in Illinois, do not have overhanging trees.)
  5. Small inflatables are not whitewater quality and are not intended for use in whitewater or fast water.

It seems to be the rule, the fastest current always brings you into the overhanging trees.

When you get heavy rains, narrow streams like the DuPage River in Naperville will rise fast – while streams with a wide flood plain such as the lower Des Plaines tend to rise slowly.  If you want to paddle after a heavy rain, stay away from narrow streams.









First aid and Emergency Preparedness: Essential paddling skills!

Every year in Illinois, between the organized club trips, meetup groups, friends getting together, etc. there are lots of people on lots of different waterways!  And for the most part everyone has a great time!  After all, the worst day paddling is better than the best day at work!  And then just once, out of all those many hours spent on the water, something goes wrong.  Someone steps wrong and sprains/breaks an ankle.  Someone stumbles, reaches down to break their fall, and breaks a wrist.  Or dislocates a shoulder…or…or…or…  So what happens when someone gets hurt?  Would you be ready to deal with the situation?


Advanced preparation and training is essential.    Depending on the context you are in will depend on the first aid training and skills you will need.  In a context where Emergency Responders are readily available to help, first aid as taught by the American Red Cross and American Heart Association (amongst others) is appropriate.  This type of training focuses on dealing with stabilizing critical life threatening issues and waiting for professional help to arrive.  In a more remote context, where emergency assistance is day(s) away, Wilderness First aid as taught by Wilderness Medical Associates, Outward Bound, (amongst others) is appropriate.


Once you have had the first aid training you will be ready to put together an emergency kit.  Not only will this involve first aid supplies, but it might include other things as well.  Think through some likely scenarios that might happen and plan in advance for how to handle them.    What will you need if someone gets hypothermic and needs to warm up?  what will you need if someone damages a boat?  What will you need if someone loses a paddle?  What will you need to signal  for help?  What will you need if someone needs to mark walk out and mark a trail back to the rest of the group?  What if you get stuck out and have to spend the night?  The kit will probably vary based the type of paddling, time of year, location, etc.