Canoe Saftey

Canoe Safety

Rivers are fun, but there can be dangers - learn to recognise them and always take the following precautions to minimise risks and prevent accidents:

  • Wear a buoyancy aid at all times.
  • Wear a helmet if you are likely to canoe in white / rough water.

All rivers receive some sort of dirty water; please make sure you:

  • Cover cuts and scratches with a waterproof dressing as soon as possible.
  • Avoid capsizing in still or slow-flowing water and try not to swallow river water.
  • Always wear shoes or other footwear.
  • Wash your hands before eating, drinking or smoking.

Be aware of the symptoms relating to waterborne illnesses and, if you do feel ill, tell your doctor that you have been canoeing.

Canoeing Safely Overview.

  • Experience - Carefully match the paddling you’re planning to do with the experience level of you and your group. Consider fitness, strength, age and expertise as well as your knowledge of the area and conditions.
  • Equipment - Make sure that you are using the right equipment for the type of canoeing you’re doing. Dress appropriately and carry extra clothing with you. Always wear a buoyancy aid and wear a helmet in rough or moving water. Carry food, a hot drink and first aid equipment.
  • Conditions - The weather can be unpredictable so always be prepared for the worst. Check local, specialised forecasts and be prepared to change your plans accordingly. It doesn’t take long for a river to flood in heavy rain.
  • Planning - Plan according to the groups ability, not simply your own. Use as much information as you can gather from the WCA Access Officers, guidebooks, tourist information centres and local paddlers. Always be prepared to adapt your plans. Tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
  • Emergencies - In the event of an emergency, call the police by dialling 999. The will contact the appropriate specialist rescue services. Always supply a map reference if possible. Treat injuries to the best of your ability.

Leptospirosis (Weil's Disease)

Leptospirosis is an animal infection. After recovery the animal excretes the organisms in the urine. The bacteria survive for days or even weeks in moist conditions, but only for a few hours in salt water. The infection is caught by direct contact with the urine or polluted environment. Bacteria enter through skin abrasions or via eyes, nose or mouth.

The Illness

The usual incubation is 2 to 12 days. Usually a flu-like illness occurs which resolves in 2 - 3 weeks. There may be fever, severe headache, pains in the back and calf and prostration. A few cases develop jaundice, when the condition is known as Weils disease. Although death may occur in 15% of the jaundiced patients, death without jaundice is virtually unknown. Antibiotics during the first few days help in limiting infection. Many cases recover without specific treatment.

What to do

If you think you may have the infection, go to your doctor and tell him / her that there may be a risk of leptospirosis. The diagnosis is by clinical suspicion. Blood tests can rarely confirm the illness in time to affect treatment. They may subsequently confirm it. The micro-biologist at the local hospital is the best source of advice.


  • Cover all cuts and abrasions with waterproof plasters.
  • Always wear footwear to avoid cutting feet.
  • Avoid capsize drill or rolling practice in suspect waters.
  • Where possible, shower soon after canoeing.
  • If in doubt contact your doctor early.

The Level of Risk

Each year, on average, 9 watersports people contract Leptospirosis, among which 3, on average, are canoeists. Leptospirosis is very rare, and its deterioration into Weil's Disease even more rare. Weil's Disease is however a very serious illness, and must be swiftly diagnosed and treated.

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