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Missouri River Floating: Canoeing and Kayak Safety Tips

Family Paddling in a Canoe | Eureka Fire Protection District | Eureka, Missouri

It's hard to beat the fun of floating on the Missouri and Meramec Rivers. Passing the time in a kayak or canoe with family and friends is refreshing. The sparkling water, colors, and outdoor sounds make the trip worthwhile. But, before you embark on your next paddling adventure, we recommend reviewing these river safety tips provided by the American Canoe Association and the Missouri State Highway Water Patrol.

Woman Preparing to Kayak | Eureka Fire Protection District | Eureka MO

What You Need For Canoeing and Kayaking in Missouri

Federal Law requires a Coast Guard-approved, wearable life jacket for everyone on board, of the proper size, good condition, and readily accessible. Children under seven years of age must wear a USCG-approved Personal Flotation Device on board.

Canoeists must display a white flashlight or lantern between sunset and sunrise and during times of restricted visibility.

Kayaking with Friends in Missouri | Eureka Fire Protection District | Eureka, MO

River Safety Tips

  • Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times. Even gentle stretches of water can have unseen undercurrents. Trying to fight a swift current will exhaust swimmers of every ability.

  • Use sunscreen, and wear a hat and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun. Wear water shoes. If your canoe/kayak/inner tube capsizes, they will protect your feet. Walking in rivers can be dangerous.

  • No one may use glass containers in any vessels susceptible to swamping, tipping, or rolling.

  • Scout the river section you intend to float. Be familiar with the river and its characteristics. Make a rescue plan if necessary. Pair an experienced paddler/floater with someone of less experience.

  • Learn to recognize river hazards such as strainers, dams with reverse hydraulics, boulders, barb wire across the river, eddies, etc. Check current and future weather conditions before leaving. Be aware of weather warnings and actions that you should take if severe weather happens unpredictably.

  • Know your limits, and do not attempt a section of the river beyond your skill level.

  • Do not paddle or attempt to cross rivers at flood stage or after heavy rain. Currents can become very swift, even in a normally shallow river.

  • If you capsize, hold onto your craft and move immediately to the upstream side to avoid being trapped between the boat and an obstacle. Float on your back, feet together and pointed downstream. Gradually work your way to the shore. Release your craft only if it improves your safety.

  • Tie all your gear into the boat, but never yourself, children or pets. Do not stand up in swift water (feet can get caught in rocks) but swim with the current at a 45-degree angle toward the shore.

  • Carry the proper equipment, including dry clothing and a first aid kit. Store all extra gear in a secure watertight container.

  • Stay sober. Alcohol and drugs affect balance, judgment, coordination, swimming skills, and the body's ability to stay warm.

  • Avoid being "too" — too tired, too drunk, too much sun, too far from safety, too much strenuous activity.

  • Learn basic water rescue techniques. When attempting a rescue, remember the adage of "Reach - Throw - Row - Go for Help." Unprepared rescuers risk being caught in the same dangerous situation and can become a victim themselves. If you have to go after someone in the water, always put on a life jacket first.

What to do When Your Canoe Capsizes

The Eureka Fire Protection District encourages all Missourians to enjoy our state's lakes and rivers, but remember: A little forethought and safety planning will keep you out of danger while having fun.


About the Author:

Eureka Fire Protection District is an EMS, Fire, and Rescue service provider located in Eureka, Missouri. Staffed with nearly one hundred volunteer and career Paramedics, EMTs, Firefighters, Junior Firefighters, and administrative teams, the department provides its local community with fire prevention, education, safety resources, and emergency relief. Eureka Fire Protection District maintains a reputation as a well-run, high-performing fire department by keeping up to date with the latest in life-saving training and technology.


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