Do you know what people call low-head dams? Drowning machines! If you approach a low-head dam in a kayak or a canoe, there is a good chance that you will drown. That’s why you will see signs that say, “Please stay off the dam.”
Don’t try to be a tough guy and tackle everything with brute force. Dams are dangerous. Flowing rivers offer some of the most incredible canoeing opportunities out there, but it is essential to understand that moving water, even slow-moving water, is a compelling force.
So, before you take your canoe into flowing rivers, it’s crucial that you know the potential hazards and how to lessen the risk. First off, rivers change dramatically in character from season to season and even from week to week.
Unless you know a river exceptionally well, the best thing to do is do some research online and check with the local outfitter. It’s also essential to keep your eye out for any warning signs, and best of all, paddle with people who know the river well.
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What Makes A Low-Head Dam So Dangerous?
One of the most common unnatural hazards that you’ll find on some flowing rivers are low-head dams. In fact, low-head barriers have been responsible for an unfortunate number of fatalities over the years because they often look safe.
The reality, though, is you’ll always find a mighty recirculating current at the bottom of low-head dams, which should be avoided at all costs.
A low-head dam is a human-made structure that is created to raise the water level of a river. It’s hard to spot a low-head dam because it covers the river’s entire width and makes a perfectly uniformed drop.
These dams improve water irrigation and boost water supplies. All in all, these low-head dams are essential. However, what makes them dangerous is the force at the end of the fall.
Canoeists, kayakers, and even strong swimmers sometimes find themselves in real peril when going over these dams. Not only are they difficult to spot, but it also becomes very difficult to measure the depth when you are swimming or on a kayak.
Dangers Of Approaching A Low -Head Dam
If you still need more convincing, the following section will give you a clear idea of just how powerful and dangerous these dams can get. Contrary to what you believe, oftentimes, the most hazardous dams are the smallest ones.
Over the years, thousands of these structures have been constructed to take advantage of rivers and watercourses. Back in the day, factories and mills often relied on water power, and at that time, most of these smaller dams were constructed.
However, even though their usefulness has faded away, the construction is still there. And because most dams are now abandoned, this created a new public safety issue.
In the US, these low-head dams have caused more fatalities than all major dam failures in recent years. For kayakers and swimmers, any river where there are high turbulence and fast-moving water can become very dangerous.
What you think is a manageable risk can turn into an almost surefire way to drown yourself.
- What makes your escape difficult is the incoming water over the dam. This water current has enough force to pull your kayak and yourself underwater and make you stuck in an endless loop.
- If you have seen the video, you know about the hydraulic that is created by the flow. Even if you manage to get past the initial drop, this hydraulic won’t let you escape. Instead, it will drag you back and swallow you in.
- You will constantly get sucked down and then shot up along with the boat and other debris such as branches.
What To Do When You Approach A Low-Head Dam?
Imagine you are on your kayak just paddling away and enjoying a good time. All of a sudden, you see something unusual. What seemed like a calm flat river surface at first, all of a sudden, it turned into a waterfall. Obviously, a mini one.
Suddenly you see a red sign saying low-head dam ahead. You have to do something as time is short and you are getting closer. Based on the situation, here are the things that you can do.
- Jump out of your kayak.
- Avoid the dam.
- Go around it on foot.
- Start paddling past the boiling point of the dam and maintain a safe distance.
Now, if you approach a low-head dam, what do you do? The only valid answer is to avoid it altogether. As soon as you see the warning sign, don’t approach any further.
Paddle your canoe over to the nearest bank and cross the dam on foot. Your only option is to walk around the dam. Now, I bet you have seen veteran canoeists and kayakers confront these low-head dams head-on.
What’s the deal here? How do they do it? Can I do it?
Well, you will need balls of steel to do that. Remember, the stakes are high, and there is a thin chance that you will survive. There are plenty of other things in this world to do.
Before you go about kayaking, do good research, and locate the danger zones. In the US, kayaking and other forms of recreational activities on the water are becoming more popular than ever.
If you want to make sure you have a good time on the weekend, make sure to do your homework. Before setting off, plan your route.
- No matter how many times you have visited the same river or have paddled there, you never know when a river might change. You can never know the river too well.
- Before you pack in your gears, try to gather information about the river your desired route. Make sure to look out for dams nearby.
- You can’t always rely on signs because some of them might get lost. Don’t expect warning signs to be available in every spot.
- Before you venture out, try to collect detailed guides and maps.
May be it’s a weekend and you have tied down your kayak on the truck bed to enjoy the vacation. The enjoyment may turn into sorrow if there is a low-head dam in the river.
One final piece of advice from me is never to panic even if you encounter a low-head dam. As soon as you see the signs of an upcoming dam, paddle your way over to the nearest shore or bank.
This is why it is always recommended to go with someone experienced. And that concludes our article on what you should do when approaching a low-head dam in a canoe or kayak.