Personal safety is an essential part of trip planning. We recommend that you take a look at our many pamphlets on topics such as cold-water paddling. We also recommend that you be aware of your environment and do your best to minimize impact to it, including helping to stop the spread of invasive species.
Waterways are dynamic systems, and even the most detailed route descriptions cannot account for seasonal changes due to fluctuations in water level, downed trees, recent floods, geological disturbances, or storms and rainfall. Conditions are ever-changing. Be smart: plan for unexpected situations, and stay alert while on the water.
The American Canoe Association provides the following information to help you plan and carry out a fun paddle trip.
Know what you are paddling. River guidebooks and topographic maps are valuable references in trip planning. Plan alternate routes in case of winds, changing weather, or unexpected paddler limitations.
Plan each day’s itinerary. Set up locations for put-ins and takeouts along with possible lunch break stops. Consider time, distance, and the abilities of your group. Arrange for a shuttle.
Be prepared for anything. Make sure the equipment you take is appropriate to help you survive and rescue yourself, since once you are on the water, it will be all that you have. Refer to the Paddler’s Checklist below.
File a float plan with someone who will notify others if you don’t return on time. This is especially important in the Northern Forest, where cell phone coverage is spotty, so you cannot rely on being able to phone for help.
Clarify participant responsibilities with paddlers before getting
on the water. Unless you are instructing or commercially guiding the group, your trip is likely a “common adventure” trip format in which each participant takes responsibility for the decision to participate, the selection of appropriate equipment, and the decision to run, scout, or portage rapids. More experienced paddlers should assist those with less experience in making proper decisions on the trip.
Don’t overreach. Paddle within both your own and your group’s limits.
Clean, Drain, Dry. (Watch our video)
Aquatic Invasives threaten the evolved integrity of our waters as well as the quality of our recreational experience. Play your part in preventing their spread. Follow these guidelines any time you transition from one water body to another ensure you are not the carrier for these aquatic pests.
Remove mud, plants, fish, and organisms from your boat. Dispose of them in a proper container or on dry land.
- Clean the inside and outside of your boat.
- Clean your paddles and any other gear, including your shoes, if they have come in contact with the water.
- If a hose is available for use before heading into the next water body, hose your boat and gear down to help be assured they are properly cleaned.
Drain all water from hatches, boat wells, bags, bailers, and containers while still at the river or lake you are leaving.
- Avoid using sponges as bailers because it is hard to get all the water out of them between quick (same day) transitions.
Dry your boat and gear. Aquatic Invasives need moisture to survive. If you use a towel, stow it to be cleaned and dried later.
- Quick dry towels can be very useful. Make sure that any towel you use to dry your boat and gear is completely dry before using it again on another water body.
- If possible alternate two pair of shoes to give footwear time to dry when making quick (same day) transitions. Research available shoes and find types that allow for quick drainage and dry time.
This list was created by Katina Dinaan, author of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail’s Through Paddler Companion.
Leave No Trace
In order to maintain the beauty and health of the places where we recreate, as well as the ability to access them, the following principles were developed by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. NFCT is a Leave No Trace member and encourages all paddlers to familiarize themselves with these principles, practice them along the Trail, and help others learn to tread lightly.
Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
- Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and
- Schedule your trip to avoid times of high
- Visit in small Split larger parties into smaller groups.
- Repackage food to minimize
- Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns, or
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses, or
- Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and
- Good campsites are found, not
- Altering a site is not
- In popular areas, concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
- Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
Dispose of Waste Properly
- Pack it in, pack it
- Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled
- Pack out all trash, leftover food, and
- If there is no established outhouse, deposit solid human waste in cat holes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and
- Cover and disguise the cat hole when
- Pack out toilet paper and hygiene
- To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable
- Scatter strained
Leave What You Find
- Preserve the past: observe, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and
- Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find
- Avoid introducing or transporting nonnative
- Do not build structures or furniture, or dig in pristine
- Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and
- Avoid places where impacts are just
Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Be aware that campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry.
- Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for
- Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound
- Keep fires
- Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by
- Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool
- Observe wildlife from a Do not follow or approach them.
- Never feed Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
- Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
- Control pets at all times, or leave them at
- Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: when mating, nesting, raising young, or in
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
- Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their
- Be courteous. Yield to other users on the
- Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack
- Take breaks and camp away from trails and other
- Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and
Paddling is fun, and with the right information and equipment your trip will be everything you want it to be. A few safety tips can help make sure you enjoy your time on the water and come back in one piece. Here are some informative resources to help you prepare for your time on the water.
Please also visit our thru-paddlers section for additional info about trip planning.
Wear It! Life Jackets Matter by NFCT with Kokatat & the American Canoe Association
Cold Water Survival by NFCT with Kokatat & the American Canoe Association
Paddler’s Safety Checklist by NFCT with L.L. Bean & the American Canoe Association
Our friends at NRS have an excellent set of Gear Checklists for a variety of whitewater, flatwater, canoe, kayak, and fishing adventures.
We highly recommend viewing “Preparing for and Surviving Cold Water” , a slide show created by Paul Travis, Master Maine Guide.