All water sports present an element of danger and kayaking and canoeing are no exception. Intending paddlers should be confident swimmers and have a sound knowledge of survival skills and appropriate first aid. Tasmanian rivers offer a unique experience and are unlike many rivers in other parts of Australia. Tasmanian rivers are generally steeper and rockier, hence a greater ability to paddle technical water is needed. There are a number of dangers associated with paddling white water that river paddlers should be constantly aware of.
Stoppers: A form of eddy caused by a rock, log or sudden drop in the river. Any sudden change in flow causes the water to redirect back upstream on top of itself, similar to surf breaking. There are numerous types of stoppers, each with its own danger. As a rule if there is plenty of water flowing through the stopper and the return flow is not very strong, the stopper is safe. If however, there is a lot of water flowing into the stopper, and the return flow is very strong the stopper could be deadly. Some variables to consider are the depth or height of the stopper, the angle of flow into it, the amount of rubbish caught in it and the presence of any submerged objects. Only experience can determine the exact nature of a stopper. Don’t take any uncalculated risks!
Weirs: Weirs are usually very dangerous due to the angle of water flow into the weir stopper and the amount of water in the return flow. No matter how small, all weirs should be treated with respect. A good example is the weir on the Forth River. It has only a small drop but because of the amount of water flowing over it and the length and power of the return flow, a person, once caught in the stopper has great difficulty getting out. The Forth Weir has claimed six lives. If caught in a weir the best way out is to swim down and catch the current flowing along the bottom.
Logs: A log, once in a river is a potential death trap. If a kayak is caught on a log then it can fold or become pinned with the water pressure. Every effort should be made to avoid logs. Portage if necessary. If a capsize occurs and the paddler is swimming toward a log, he must try to get up onto the log by throwing one leg and arm up onto it. Do not try to put both arms onto the log and pull the rest of the body up as the water pressure will wrap the body into a U shape around the log, a position difficult to recover from. Other hazards with logs are branches that can catch a person or paddle, logs underwater (small branches may be sticking out) and logs extending from the bank into the water (try to work out how far they go and how deep they are from water movements). Willows must also be avoided as they have a tendency to grow out into rivers causing water to flow under them. If caught in a kayak in willows or around logs, always lean downstream to avoid capsizing.
Clothing and Equipment: Tasmanian rivers in winter are very cold. Suitable clothing should always be worn: e.g. drysuits, cags, thermal underwear, buoyancy vest, wetsuit boots and most importantly, a kayaking helmet. Craft should have sufficient buoyancy to float evenly when full of water. Loops or toggles should be installed in kayaks but avoid loose ropes. Paddlers should carry and be trained in the use of throw bags. It is suggested that paddlers take first aid kits in a sealed dry-bag. Repair kits and tape can also be essential.
Basic rules such as the wearing of helmets and life jackets should never be broken. A careless action by you or anyone else could result in tragedy. Always be honest with yourself about your own ability and never be tempted beyond your skill.