Water Trails & Paddling


River Etiquette

     1. Practice ‘Leave No Trace’ Guidelines

  • Plan Ahead and Prepare
  • Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors
  1. Control pets or leave them at home.
  2. Know and obey all rules and regulations.
  3. Use only established access and portage sites and minimize impacts to shore when launching, portaging, scouting, or taking out.
  4. Examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  5. Respect other river users and riverfront property owners and do not trespass on private property.
  6. No glass (recommended for safety).
  7. Be courteous and polite when communicating with others.
  8. Avoid interfering with the recreational activities of others.
  9. Never engage in loud, lewd or inappropriate behavior.

Paddling Safety
  • Wear a PFD
  • Be Aware of Hazards
  • Obstacles
  • Respect Other Recreationalists
  • Tides
  • High Water Conditions
  • Strainers
  • Weather
  • Sun and Heat (Avoid Hyperthermia)
  • Water Temperature (Avoid Hypothermia)
  • Water Quality
  • Wildlife
  • Be Prepared
  • Checklist of Items to Take
  • What Do I Do if I Capsize?

One of the reasons we enjoy paddling is because we get to be closer to nature. While enjoying the beauty of nature, we must also be aware of its dangers. Being aware of potential dangers will help you prepare for them and have a safe and enjoyable trip.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs):

Georgia law requires that each person in your group have an approved PFD (Type I, II, III, or V) that fits properly and is in good working condition. Please review the information on the Georgia DNR website on current boating and personal watercraft regulations (link: https://www.georgiawildlife.com/boating/regulations).   According to regulations, any child under 10 years of age is required to wear a PFD while in any moving boat, except when in an enclosed cabin. Wearing a PFD is the easiest way to prevent fatal accidents while out on the river.


While part of the beauty of the river, certain features can become obstacles and hazardous when paddling. For example, rocks/bedrock ledges, rapids/shoals, bridges, and overhanging trees/branches can create obstacles or tip you over. Look ahead so that you will be prepared to maneuver around any obstacles. In areas of bedrock ledges and rapids, look for the area with the smoothest water that is shaped like a “V” pointing downstream. The smoothest water is likely your clearest path through rapids and over bedrock ledges. Canoes and kayaks can also be pinned between the current and a hazard if caught sideways between the two. When looking ahead, if a certain section looks too difficult for your group, stop a distance upstream and plan a route through or around the obstacle, perhaps even portaging around it. When travelling in groups, keep an eye on other group members; this will allow you to quickly help others if they do run into a potentially dangerous situation. Provide a safe distance between yourself and the paddler in front of you so they can safely navigate an obstacle. Watch other members of your group until they have safely passed obstacles. In a group with diverse paddling experience, it is helpful to have your most experienced paddlers watch out for the less experienced members of your group.

Respect Other Recreationalists—
Swimmers and people doing other recreational activities also use the river. Provide plenty of room between yourself and other river enthusiasts. In open water sections, stay out of the main lane of traffic. Canoes and kayaks require less draft and will not compete for space in the shallower areas of water. Allow motorized boats to pass you instead of crossing in front of a vessel that is likely less maneuverable than you. Also wear bright-colored clothing to make yourself more visible if you become separated from your vessel.

If you are paddling on a river influenced by tides make sure to look at the tide chart when planning your trip so as to avoid having to paddle against a fast moving current (link: https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/map).

High Water Conditions
To avoid paddling in dangerous high water conditions make sure to check the water level on the section you plan to paddle (link: https://waterwatch.usgs.gov/index.php?m=flood&r=ga&w=map). If there is a dam located on the river you are paddling make sure to find out any information about water release schedules or the presence of dangerous low head dams (link: https://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.americancanoe.org/resource/resmgr/sei-educational_resources/brochure_low_head_dam.pdf).

Strainers are places where water can pass but you cannot, such as submerged trees, bridge pilings, and some rock ledges. In some rivers, utility pipes may cross the river and become a strainer depending on the water depth. Be on the lookout for strainers; getting caught in a strainer can be deadly. It is best to approach submerged trees or logs along the river bank from the downstream side to avoid having the current pin your boat against the obstacle or flipped by the force of the water. You should also avoid grabbing on to low hanging branches of partially submerged vegetation as this action can often cause your boat to capsize. To avoid a multi-boat pile up, leave enough room between boats to allow each boat to safely navigate around these obstacles.  Low-head dams: Even a very short low-head dam creates dangerous hydraulics that can become deadly. Beware of paddling near low-head dams. Water Visibility: After a rain, Georgia rivers get muddy and seeing obstacles and avoiding them can be more difficult. So exercise caution and be sure to wear your PFDs when the river is muddy.

Strong thunderstorms and high winds are not uncommon on summer afternoons in Georgia. In the event of inclement weather that includes the risk of lightning, paddle to shore, secure your boat and find cover under a dense stand of small trees. Avoid open areas, especially open areas with solitary trees, and avoid gathering in large groups. By dispersing yourselves over a large area, you reduce the risk of lightning striking numerous individuals at one time. Squatting, with your feet on a personal flotation devise or seat cushion, is a good idea when in the midst of a thunderstorm (while on solid ground—not in your boat!).

Sun and Heat—
Hats and appropriate sun screen are recommended. If you get too hot, the river comes with built in air conditioning – get in and cool off. Each individual should carry at least three quarts of water to avoid dehydration which can lead to hyperthermia. Hyperthermia, is when a person has an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the heat-regulating mechanisms of the body to deal with the heat coming from the environment. Heat fatigue, heat syncope (sudden dizziness after prolonged exposure to the heat), heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are commonly known forms of hyperthermia (link: https://www.nih.gov/news/health/jun2012/nia-27.htm). Sports drinks with electrolytes are also recommended.

Water Temperature—
The combination of cold water and a cold afternoon thunderstorm raises the risk of dangerous changes in body temperature which can lead to Hypothermia. Hypothermia is a condition in which the body’s core temperature drops below that required for normal metabolism and body functions. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making a person unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it. Warnings signs of hypothermia include: shivering, exhaustion, memory loss, slurred speech, confusion, fumbling hands, and/or drowsiness. Be prepared with rain gear and layered clothing that stays warm even when wet (avoid cotton). Find more information HERE.

Water Quality—
Due to a variety of conditions, water quality can vary throughout the State and organisms that cause illness may be present. Swimming and submersion in the water increase the risk of contracting water-borne illnesses. Ingesting river water should be avoided and cuts and sores should be kept out of the water and treated if exposed.

We all enjoy seeing wildlife and must remember that we are sharing its environment. For example, there are several species of venomous snakes within Georgia, so be observant when making stops along the river. If you encounter any snakes, simply leave them alone. Should you have the misfortune of being bitten, remain calm and get medical assistance as quickly as possible. Bites from these venomous snakes are rarely fatal, given proper medical attention.  


Check the weather before you leave. When the weather is cooler, wear quick drying clothes and take layers. Avoid wearing cotton. Staying dry and warm makes a trip a lot more fun when it is cold outside. Check the water levels within the river before you head out.  Higher water typically means the river will be muddy and flows might make paddling difficult. Low water can create more obstacles to maneuver within the river.

Let someone know where you are going and when you will likely be home. Be prepared to stay out longer than you expect. Unexpected water conditions or taking a more leisurely float might make your trip longer than you thought. The following is a good list of items to have on any paddling trip.

Checklist of Items to Take:
• PFDs
• Sunscreen
• Sunglasses / hat
• Water
• Food
• Appropriate clothing
• First aid kit with matches
• Waterproof bag / pouch for cell phone and other items.
• Flashlight
• Bailer
• Small repair kit including duct tape
• Compass / GPS and map
• Spare paddle
• Safety whistle

What Do I Do if I Capsize?

On slow moving water, stay with your boat and swim it to shore or shallow water where you can dump the water and right your vessel. It floats even when full with water and can support you if you become tired. Make sure your belongings are secured to your boat to keep from losing them in the event of a capsize. Other boats should be around to assist in recovering any belongings and help you right your boat.

In fast-moving water or rapids, get away and upstream from your boat until you reach slower moving water. Float on your back, feet downstream.  Don’t try to stand in fast-moving water.  Rocks or other objects can trap your feet and the force of the water can hold you under. Moving canoes filled with water can pin or crush paddlers against rocks or trees.

126 South Milledge Avenue, Suite E3, Athens, Georgia 30605 | (706) 549-4508 (phone) | info@garivers.org