All too often I hear paddlers saying, “I wish there were more rivers to paddle round here” or “I guess we’ll just do a Dee lap”. But there are way more rivers out there than most people think and all it takes is a little bit of prior planning and a good crew! Whether you are an intermediate grade 3 paddler or someone who is pushing grade 5 there is plenty of rivers out there that haven’t been run in years so get out there and have a look.

For seasoned kayakers, exploring new rivers adds an element of excitement and adventure. However, it’s crucial to approach sections you haven’t paddled before with proper preparation and a solid understanding of the whitewater kayaking skills you will need. In this blog, we will guide you through some steps to safely explore new sections in your kayak.

Before heading out, its best to do some research. Look for guidebooks, online resources, or local paddling clubs that provide detailed information about the river you plan to conquer. For the UK there are a number of physical guidebooks, along with Apps such as Rainchasers and RiverApp, which can give you an idea of where sections are and what level they may be on.

You could also study maps and satellite imagery to familiarise yourself with the river’s features, such as rapids, drops, and potential hazards. Reading trip reports and seeking advice from experienced kayakers will provide valuable insights into the river’s current condition and any recent changes. Don’t be afraid to ask on your local Facebook group or message locals about different sections.

Honest self-assessment is crucial when kayaking new whitewater rivers. Evaluate your kayaking skills and experience level to ensure you have the necessary competence to handle the challenges that may arise. Some skills which may be valuable aside from kayaking could be portaging, scouting, teamwork and safety skills. If you don’t feel confident, consider enrolling in kayaking courses or seeking guidance from qualified instructors to improve specific techniques or learn new skills if required.

Understanding the difficulty level of the river is paramount to your safety and enjoyment. In the UK, rivers are generally graded from Grade 1 (no technical difficulties) to Grade 5 (extremely challenging and hazardous). Some sections may be grade 6 (mostly unrunnable, except in certain conditions). You can use previous grades given to gauge the technicality and danger involved. Keep in mind that river ratings can vary, so cross-referencing different sources will provide a more accurate assessment. Also, always keep in mind that the river level will affect the grade.

Safety should always be a top priority when kayaking new rivers. Ensure you have the appropriate safety gear, including a well-fitted helmet, a buoyancy aid or PFD, and protective clothing. Create a comprehensive safety plan that encompasses potential hazards, emergency procedures, and communication methods. Share this plan with a reliable contact who can notify authorities if you don’t return as scheduled. Additionally, carry essential safety equipment like a telephone, throw bag, first aid kit, and river knife. It is always worth bringing a pair of split paddles and a group shelter along with some layers especially if you are planning on being well off the beaten track. It is also very important that you know how to use the safety gear you carry so be sure to do a BC whitewater safety and rescue course!

Before jumping straight onto a new section, take the time to scout the river from various vantage points. This allows you to familiarise yourself with the rapids, obstacles, and eddies along the way. Pay close attention to potential hazards such as undercut rocks, strainers, or high-water areas. Identifying and memorizing significant landmarks or features will aid navigation and ensure smoother lines.

Its always worth jumping on a warm up section at the beginning of the day to get into the swing of paddling before you get on a new section.

Colwith Force on Little Langdale Beck

Whenever possible, kayak with experienced paddlers or those who you feel comfortable and safe around. Experienced kayakers can offer insights, share techniques, and assist in reading and running sections, ensuring a more enjoyable and secure adventure.

As kayakers, we have a responsibility to respect the environment and local communities. Follow guidelines for river access, camping, and waste disposal to preserve the river and all it has to offer for future generations. Embrace the principles of Leave No Trace by picking up litter on your way and minimising your impact on the river and its surroundings.

River conditions can change rapidly due to weather patterns or fluctuating water levels. Stay vigilant and continually assess the river as you paddle. Be prepared to adapt your plans or take alternate routes if conditions become too challenging or unsafe. Prioritise your safety and make well-informed decisions to ensure a positive experience.

Skelwith Force on the River Brathay

Amidst the excitement and challenges, remember to savour the experience of kayaking new rivers. The river can give us incredible experiences and memories to last a lifetime, treat it with respect and care and cherish the moments you share with friends on the water.

So, gear up, grab your kayak, and let new rivers become the setting for your next adventure.

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