Bamboo Coffee Table Glass Top – When canoeing and kayaking, there are several precautions you should follow and several situations in which you should exercise extreme caution.
Low dam hazards can be just as deadly for kayaks as they are for boats, and accidents have occurred many times. You should be aware of the dangers of low dams. Here you will learn about these issues and what to do when approaching a low dam by boat or kayak.
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Generally, there is no safe way to cross a low-head dam when approaching a low-head dam by boat or kayak, and you should never attempt to cross it. If you know where the dam is, identify it as a potential hazard, the safest and most effective option is to stay away from it.
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Low dams are also known as run-of-river dams. They are artificial structures consisting of low-profile concrete walls that run the length of the river from one side to the other.
They differ from traditional dams because they do not rise above the water level. Instead, the wall is lowered and filled to the surface of the water, giving it the nickname “low head”.
Low dams stop the canal partially, rather than completely, raising the water level in a section of the river. When the water hits the wall, it can flow freely and descend to the lower level.
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Massive dams with giant spillway gates seem far more threatening, but you’re well aware of their presence.
Low-head barriers, on the other hand, can be virtually unnoticeable under the right circumstances. You won’t see a low-head dam until you’re on top of it, whether you’re in a canoe or kayak.
Canoe seats have a slight edge in height and view. Kayakers sit lower on the water, complicating the situation.
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As a result, knowing what to do when approaching low dam hazards must be immediate, as you may only have seconds to react.
There is no official list of low dams in the United States, and all but a few states have not maintained warning notices.
Only three states—Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Virginia—publish estimates, and only three have legislative control over the public safety of low dams. (1)
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They are usually not identified and there are no warning signs because the law does not require it. You also won’t always be able to find them on the map.
Most paddlers tend to underestimate or overestimate their physical ability to resist the powerful currents that swirl around low dams.
Dam pressure can be so intense that they pull everything—debris, boats, and people—into the swirling current above and below. There are high hydraulic forces and poor buoyancy. (2, 3)
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This is typically a deadly recipe for disaster, potentially fatal to anyone unfortunate enough to be caught.
So, in addition to fighting the currents, you also have to protect yourself from debris, which increases your chances of getting trapped and can lead to serious injuries.
A “drop” is a powerful, circulating flow that occurs directly below the dam. It’s the most dangerous force you’ll experience in a low-head dam. Water flowing over the face of the dam creates a washing machine-like turbulence that swallows everything and everyone in its path.
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No matter how hard you fight, you’ll be hammered by relentless hydraulic forces that pull you from the surface, pull you under, and pin you against the dam wall.
Even if you reach the top, the constant flood of water and eddies will drag you back and the nightmare will begin again.
Although we recommend life jackets, the highly aerated, turbulent waters of the lower dam release enough water pressure to render them useless.
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The scariest thing is that when you go inside, you are completely alone. Rescue in a low-head dam is nearly impossible, and many emergency crews end up being casualties.
Doing your research before starting a kayaking trip is the best way to avoid coming into contact with a low dam. Consult maps of local waterways and other kayakers familiar with the area. Many states have low-lying dam maps available online for this reason.
When you are out on the river, it is very important to keep your eyes and ears open for any warning signs that may indicate a low dam.
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Recognize the warning signs as early as possible so you have a chance to respond while the waters are calm. You should be able to make your trip to the nearest bank as long as you keep a safe distance from the low dam. This is the safest activity for every paddler.
As you approach a low-lying dam, it becomes more difficult to control your kayak or canoe until the currents take full control. Get back upstream, away from danger, before it’s too late. You should not try to pass it. instead focus your efforts on a safe distance.
If you want to continue your journey, the only safe way to cross the low dam is to paddle around it, avoiding danger.
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Paddle to the beach and paddle or kayak around the dam until you’re back in accessible waters. If you want to be extra careful, move further down from the base of the dam. You may have to take your ship to the landing.
You should avoid this because the “boil” can affect a huge area and streams can be deadly even a long distance from a low dam. Return to the water only if you are sure the threat is gone.
It is inconvenient. no one wants to hold a kayak or canoe on their feet, but it’s preferable to the alternative.
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Before you finish this article, you may want to check out our other kayak training and product guides below.
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Andrew is a seasoned kayaker with 15 years experience. He started kayaking as a way to reduce work stress, but quickly became an avid angler and lure specialist. He currently enjoys both lake and ocean kayaking and enjoys writing and sharing his experiences. No longer supports older versions of your web browser to ensure user data remains secure. Please update to the latest version.
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