Water Recreation: Have Fun and Be Safe

posted by Megan McDowell on Friday, June 19, 2020

Kayaker with fishing pole paddling on Dale Maffitt Reservoir

Kayaking, canoeing, and tubing season in Iowa is in full swing. Whether you’re new to any of these types of water recreation, or a seasoned pro, it is always important to brush up on safety guidelines every year. There are important safety laws to know as well, especially for kayaking and canoeing. Knowing these safety practices can help prevent drowning deaths and injuries. 

There are many causes of drowning, most of which can be avoided. Reasons given by the Iowa DNR are: lack of swimming ability, alcohol use, failure to wear life jackets, lack of barriers to unsupervised swimming areas, lack of close supervision while swimming, location, and seizure disorders. The Iowa DNR has tips on how to prevent drowning that you can share with family and friends. 

Safety Tip 1: Get the Right Equipment 

The most important safety tool on the water: a life jacket. Everyone should be wearing one or have one within reach at any time. According to the U.S. Coast Guard 2018 report, 84% of 

Canoe, inner tube, paddles and water cooler on a sandbar

drowning victims in fatal boating accidents were not wearing a life jacket. Iowa State law requires life jackets on every watercraft, whether it’s a motorized boat, jet ski, kayak, canoe, or even a paddleboard. Wearing a life jacket can be the best way to prevent accidental drowning, especially while tubing. Being on a flotation device such as an inner tube can give a false sense of security and wearing a life jacket can save lives. 

For kayaking or canoeing, it is important - and can even be fun! -, to get some instruction on your equipment. You can find classes online with the Iowa DNR to learn the basics and more on using your watercraft. In-person safety courses can also be a great way to meet fellow boaters and learn about fun places to try paddling in Iowa. There are also free online boating safety exams, such as this Paddle Sports Safety Course

Small things can also make your trip safer and more enjoyable, such as having appropriate water shoes that will not fall off, packing plenty of sunscreen and drinkable water, or even having a small paddle handy while river tubing.

Safety Tip 2: Know Your Waterbody 

Understanding the risks of the waterbody you choose is also an important safety tool. Iowa has nearly 18,000 miles of navigable streams for people to enjoy and explore. Rivers offer elements of risk that you should always be vigilant for. 

Log jam under the I-80 bridge on the Raccoon River

Keeping an eye downstream to avoid any hazardous surprises, such as downed trees or fast-moving water, can save your gear and your life. Low ​head dams can catch people unaware and are extremely dangerous. It is smart to scout or research the stretch of river before you float and know your route.  

It’s also important to remember that some of Iowa’s most popular “lakes” are actually reservoirs, meaning they are dammed rivers. Saylorville Lake, Lake Red Rock, the Coralville Reservoir, and many others can still feature strong currents that can affect your swimming or boating, especially if the water is high.

Safety Tip 3: Practice Personal Safety

It is also important to be aware of your limitations in the water. Even if you are a strong swimmer, fast water, undercurrents, and obstacles such as rocks can easily catch you off guard. This is even more pertinent if you or another in your party are consuming alcohol while on the water. You should plan for stops and know how fast the river is flowing, to make sure you give yourself enough time to get off the river before it gets dark. Pay attention to the weather forecast before setting out too. Two river tubes floating down the river into the sun

No matter your water activity or where you’ll be enjoying your time on the water, you should always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. You should have a communication plan in case of an emergency. Knowing CPR, carrying a first aid kit and knowing how to use it can also save lives. 

Finally, please remember to take care of our waterways when you are out having fun. Iowans are fortunate to have so many natural resources to enjoy for recreation. It is everyone’s duty to pick up after themselves – don't sink your trash, toss cigarette butts, or leave plastic bags along the shores. Bring a mesh trash bag along on your water adventures and aim to leave the waterway cleaner than you found it.  

Now let's get out there to have some fun and maybe we will even see you out there!

  1. public health
  2. water recreation
  3. water safety

About The Author

Megan worked with IEC from 2020-2023 as a Communications Coordinator . Megan is a Navy veteran who, thanks to the Veteran Readiness and Employment program, returned to college to pursue a career change in 2018. She is a Drake University graduate with a B.A. with a double major in Public Rela ... read more