Monday, September 8, 2008

Safety tips for paddling on the Smith River

Martinsville Bulletin Managing Editor Amanda Buck
canoes on the Smith River with Brian Williams of the
Dan River Basin Association.

Sunday, September 7, 2008
Article by Amanda Buck; Photo by Darrin Doss

Brian Williams and Jennifer Doss of the Dan River Basin Association stress the following safety tips for anyone interested in paddling down the Smith River:

• Before you set out, call 629-2432 for a power generation schedule.

• If you haven’t paddled before, go with experienced paddlers before going alone. DRBA and other local groups are happy to teach beginners, Williams said. When you are learning, stick to nongeneration times to avoid the fast-moving water, which is up to 12 feet deep in some places.
As Doss put it, “You’re not gonna do the double black diamond ski slope unless you do the bunny slope first.”

• Always wear a life jacket. “We see a lot of people on the river without life jackets,” Doss said. That is dangerous even for good swimmers, Williams said, given the chance of hitting rocks and the temperature of the water. It comes out of the dam at about 40 degrees. “You don’t want to go in the water if you can help it,” Williams said. “Even in the summer, it’s very easy to get hypothermic regardless of how hot the air is.”

• Watch out for strainers, which are fallen trees, limbs, bridge pilings or rocks. Water can get around strainers, but they often tip people’s boats and “strain you right out,” Williams said.
“It’s always so important to pay attention to the river because even with an experienced paddler” unexpected things occur, Doss said, such as a tree falling overnight.

• Stay in the middle of the river to avoid being caught up in vegetation hanging from the bank. That vegetation can act as a strainer.

• If you are an inexperienced paddler, stay away from rocks. Some experienced paddlers enjoy playing around rocks, but that is dangerous for beginners, Williams said.

• If you fall out of your boat, point your feet downstream and try to get to a calm area as quickly as possible.

• Take an extra paddle along in case you lose one to the river.

• Don’t go alone. “We paddle in groups so we can help each other,” Doss said.

For more information on the Dan River Basin Association, call 634-2545 or visit

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