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

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So, you are on your kayak, gliding along the surface of the water, paddling away, having a good time. Spending time on the water is becoming more and more popular in the US. It is a fun activity. All it requires is a kayak, or a canoe and a paddle, and you are all set!

So, there you are on your kayak, paddling away, suddenly you come across warning signs of a “Low-head Dam”, written in red.

You have never encountered such a situation, nor is it written anywhere on the manual on what to do and how to evade a “Low-head Dam”.

Each moment, you’re getting closer. Time is running out. You have to do something! What should you do?

Based on the situation, here’s what many are compelled to do:

  • Jump off the kayak and walk around the dam
  • Paddle ashore
  • Shun altogether

However, veteran kayakers or canoeists confront the low-head dams head-on.

So, what’s the secret?

How can you get past the obstacle?

Of course, stakes are high. You stand to injure yourself and capsize. But, if you know how to tackle the low-head dam proper way, the skill will surely prove effective for many journeys to make.

low head dam in kayaks

What Is a Low-Head Dam?

A low head dam is a perfectly uniformed drop in the river. This is a man-made structure that usually covers the entire width of a river. Low head dams are created to raise water levels. They are intended to improve water supplies. Water irrigation also gets a boost from these dams as well.

However, there aren’t without downsides. The downside here for kayakers and canoeists is that they can be dangerous. Even swimmers will find themselves in real peril sometimes with the dams.

The danger is coupled with visual challenges. Often you will find it difficult to spot them when on a kayak or swimming. It’s because the low head dams appear flat from the surface as you approach. Moreover, the refraction of light makes it even more difficult to measure their depth.

Depending on conditions, the actual low head dams can be found a few feet under the surface of the water. They can often be quiet. So, it is hard to spot them from water level upstream. Although the low-head dams are man-made, there are natural ones as well.

The dams can hold boats. In many cases, swimmers get stuck in there as well. Evidently, the dams are not safe to play in – quite hazardous. Even at low speeds, the waters flowing over a low head dam can create a dangerous situation, in which boaters and swimmers are likely to get carried over the edge.

In May 2017, two women kayaking tried to go over the dam and got caught in the recalculating water beneath it. The body of one woman was immediately recovered, while the body of the other woman was found the day next.

So, it doesn’t require a clearer example of how dangerous the low head dam can be.

Still, if you need even much clearer reasons why you should avoid a low head dam, then the dangers are as follows:

  • Looking at the small drop and smooth water flowing doesn’t give off the slightest indication of how dangerous the force of the water underneath can be. The force of the water is enough to pull you right down.
  • You may be the strongest kayaker or swimmer, but no way can you withstand such Himalayan force!
  • The debris, such as branches will seem so overpowering no matter how strong you are. You will be constantly sucked down and shot up.
  • As water flows over the dams, the flow creates a hydraulic. It is strong enough to pull any object near the surface back toward the dam. So, it is an educated guess that your kayak will be pulled back into the dam, keeping you trapped against the dam.
  • The incoming water over the dam will pull you and your kayak under the water, thereby making it difficult for you to escape.

Low-Head Dam in Sight: What Should I Do?

So, when kayaking happily on the water, the last thing you want to encounter is a low-head dam. Even if you find yourself against one, don’t panic at all!

Here’s what you can do:

  • Paddle your way over to the nearest bank as soon as you noticed the signs of an upcoming dam. Since the low head dams are hard to spot, there should be signs warning against going past them. Once you have moved to the nearest bank, you can walk around them.

Precautionary Measures:

  • Plan your route before setting off. You don’t the river well no matter how many years you have spent around it.
  • Gather as much information as you can on the river. And, pay very close attention to dams existent.
  • If you are not a local, then collect detailed maps and guides.
  • Do not always look for signs, they may not be available in every spot.

Bottom Line

Low-head dams will surely test you if you encounter them. When you are kayaking on a river, make sure you are aware of any low head dam you may have to go through. Even if you approach one, learn what you can do in such a situation. This is absolutely crucial to know for any kayaker.

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