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Category: Education

Opportunities for paddle sports education are numerous throughout the Midwest, mainly through two different organizations or their affiliates (i.e., local paddling groups), Paddlesports North America (PNA) and the American Canoe Association (ACA). Both groups provide reliable instruction suitable for those who have never paddled, to the more advanced. Skills and instructor courses are offered by hundreds of trained instructors, across a wide spectrum of paddling, safety, and rescue disciplines. Course requirements vary considerable between these two groups.  In addition to PNA and ACA, the United States Canoe Association (USCA) offers a one-day instructor certification course focused on the basics of canoeing.

Below are relevant links to PNA, ACA, and USCA instructors and course offerings. Note that new courses are added to each organization’s calendars during the year. Also, some instructors may not be teaching classes currently.

American Canoe Association:

Paddlesports North America:

United States Canoe Association:

The IPC offers scholarship through the Sara Hartman Fund for individuals achieving certain levels of instructor certification from both the ACA and PNA: http://www.illinoispaddling.info/heartland-fund/

Additional water related educational resources can be found from the following:

$169.00 (after $30 rebate) – 10’4″ Kayak – Stable, High Performance Multichannel Hull – Paddle Included

kayak adSo read the ad on the front page of a big box home improvement store’s flyer included in Sunday’s paper. I wonder if the sales clerks at this store will tell their customers that they should also purchase a life jacket (I hope the store carries that). This may be one of the reasons we likely will read again about people getting in trouble on swollen rivers or on Lake Michigan – the “stable, high performance multichannel hull” leading buyers into a false sense of security.

When we started paddling back in the early 1970’s, there were few places one could purchase a canoe in the Chicago area. Once we did, we were provided with information on how to participate in the sport safely by joining a paddling club, which we did too. Club members freely shared their paddling knowledge and skill and educated us to make our canoe outings safer.

Where does the buyer of the $169.00 boat – after rebate – with free paddle – go to safely enjoy his or her purchase? Maybe on some river where skilled kayakers may have been seen playing at the bottom of a dam? Maybe somewhere on Lake Michigan when the weather was warm, but the water temperature in May or June is still cold enough to lead to hypothermia, in the event of the capsized paddler wearing jeans and a t-shirt with the PFD in the back of the boat? All of which we know have happened.

What is the answer? IPC is trying to develop a Safety Task Force to disseminate basic safety information to as many organizations, businesses selling canoes/kayaks/SUPs, and the press as possible, and also respond to reports of paddling-related incidents by submitting this information in letters to editors and other media.

We are looking for your ideas as well on how to provide basic safety information to the general public.

Thank you – Sigrid Pilgrim


Wilderness Inquiry’s Canoemobile is coming to Northwest Indiana and Chicago next week! People of all abilities will have the opportunity to paddle in Voyageur canoes and experience the outdoors in a whole new way.

Join us and paddle at the community eventhttps://goo.gl/Z9H5Nc
— Sun. 5/8: Ping Tom Memorial Park, Chicago, IL – Community paddling event free and open to the public, hosted by Openlands

Volunteer for one of the following eventshttps://goo.gl/cIBcX8
— Wed. 5/4: Lake George, Hobart, IN – Paddling
— Thu. 5/5: Lake George, Hobart, IN – Paddling
— Fri. 5/6-Sat. 5/7: Dunes Learning Center, Chesterton, IN – Overnight camping

These Canoemobile events are supported by our partners Toad&Co and the National Park Foundation. Read more here: https://goo.gl/fRG7kx.

Canoemobile engages people in introductory outdoor experiences, enhances learning opportunities, cultivates a stewardship ethic, and creates pathways to pursue educational and career opportunities in the outdoors. Last year’s 30-city tour connected with over 12,000 participants.

Hope to see you on the river!

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.




Reminder: Spring is Coming

56 river flood stageBy Don Mueggenborg


Just a picture of a river.

A river in flood stage.   Even a river with a wide flood plane can be dangerous when it is in flood stage. Fast current. Cool water in the spring. Branches that were well above the paddlers’ head at normal water levels now become flow-throughs.

Rivers such as the upper Des Plaines, with its many twists and bends and low branches, can be especially dangerous.

We want to get out and paddle – but we want you around for the next newsletter. Please use caution.

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


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…

The Sarah Hartman Fund for Paddle Sports Education

This fund assists the development of instructor trainers and advanced level Instructors (ACA Level III or above) and certified instructors residing in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.

A one-time $500 honorarium will be awarded upon completion of necessary training and presentation of evidence of certification in any paddling discipline as:

  • An American Canoe Association Instructor Trainer, or Instructor Trainer Educator
  • A United States Canoe Association Trainer
  • A British Canoe Union Level 5 Assessor

A one-time $150 honorarium will be paid to those individuals who present evidence of certification in any paddling discipline as:

  • An American Canoe Association Instructor Level III or above
  • A British Canoe Union Coach 3

These honoraria are designed to reimburse successful trainees for part of the costs incurred during the certification process. No one may receive more than one honorarium. Awards will be made until the fund is depleted.

To ensure the fund will not be depleted – watch for a special raffle announcement to benefit the fund. We gratefully acknowledge the following contributions made already:

  • LL BEAN – $200 Gift Certificate
  • NORTHWEST PASSAGE – Two SUP class certificates valued at $50 each

If you are a business – please consider contributing to the raffle with a product donation or gift certificate.

If you are a paddler, you can make a donation at http://www.illinoispaddling.info/heartland-fund/

Why be a paddlesport instructor? Let me tell you why I did.

By Steve LaPortelaporte

Like many people, I was first exposed to canoeing as a child at summer camp. I learned one stroke – forward. What else does a paddler need to know, right? It was fun, but nothing I was motivated to continue to do. Then when I was around fifty, I bought a Grumman at a garage sale and began to paddle again. Of course I used the skills I had learned forty years before, zig-zagging down the river, wielding my paddle as if it were a war club.

Then I joined a club. I joined it primarily for the car shift, but as I paddled with the other canoeists, I saw the elegant things that they could do with their canoes and compared them to my own sorry skills, and decided that I wanted to be like them. So I took some lessons and began to develop my skills. I found that the more skilled I became, the more I enjoyed the sport, and a whole new passion was born.

A couple of years later, a friend approached me and suggested that I become a canoe instructor. My initial response was that I didn’t want to do that. I had never had a desire to be a teacher and I intensely dislike public speaking. But he was pretty persuasive and I did feel that I owed our sport a little give-back for all the instruction and coaching I had received, so I decided to give it a try. I went through the certification process with a couple of friends and became certified. As I began to teach classes, a funny thing happened: I loved it.

In my students I saw earlier versions of myself. Some of them were struggling with the same concepts that I had struggled with, many of them had to break the same bad habits that I had been plagued with, and like me, most of them were so unskilled that they didn’t know how much they didn’t know. During the course of the class, I could see them gain skill and confidence. I was with them as they experienced their “Ah hah” moments, I shared their joy as they nailed an eddy turn that they had been trying all day to do. And all the time, I continued to build my paddling and teaching skills through my interaction with my students.

There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing the light bulb go on over a student’s head. I take immense pride in seeing an unskilled paddler become a skilled, efficient, graceful paddler. Some eventually become instructors and a few exceed the people who taught them along the way. I have been teaching for ten years, and these are just a few of the reasons why I continue to teach. I thoroughly enjoy teaching, and I would have missed it all if I had not taken the challenge.

Is it right for everybody? Probably not. But if I had followed my initial inclination, I would have missed out on the many personal rewards I have found in teaching paddling skills to others. I am so glad that I gave this a try.

Is it right for you? There’s one sure way to find out.

Dedicated to All Canoe Instructors

By Michael Cline, May 1995


Is a canoe just another boat?

Doesn’t it do more than just float?

As a canoe glides across the lake

A path of growth left in its wake.

A soul is awakened to all that is true –

The trees, the animals, and the sky so blue.

Much can be gained on canoe trips.

As your canoe glides and your paddle dips.

A teacher of this has a great task:

Many answers to ponder and questions to ask.