Canoeing, Rafting, Kayaking Floaters Guide

Ten Important Reminders for Canoe, Raft and Kayak Safety

  1. Life jackets are essential to raft, kayak and canoe safety–wear them.
  2. Take along a spare paddle.
  3. Pay attention to local weather forecasts.
  4. Dress appropriately for the season.
  5. Don't travel alone–always have a raft, kayak or canoe safety partner.
  6. Avoid camping in areas subject to sudden rises.
  7. Know your ability and don't exceed it.
  8. Refrain from drinking creek or river water no matter how clean it appears.
  9. Carry out whatever you carry in.
  10. Should you capsize, try to stay with your boat and swim it to shore, making certain that you're on the upstream side of the craft to avoid getting pinned between it and rocks or willows.

No float trip is free of potential danger, but these ten steps to raft, canoe and kayak safety will help ensure that you’re prepared for whatever comes your way.

County Canoeing Maps

Adventurers gearing up for Ouachita or Ozark float trips need to know where they are and where they’re going. Several of the stream write-ups on this website recommend the use of county maps when canoeing. Maps can be downloaded from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department website.

Topographic Maps:

Need a more detailed look at the land for your upcoming Ozark float trips? Refer to topographic maps published by the U.S. Geological Survey. They are available on the Arkansas Geological Commission website.

Classification of Rapids

River Ratings Class I-VI

The narratives also occasionally refer to classification of rapids for the streams, or river ratings, based on an international scale of six levels of difficulty:

  • Class I: EASY--Moving water with few riffles and small waves. Few or no obstructions. Correct course is easy to determine.
  • Class II: MEDIUM--Fairly frequent, but unobstructed rapids. Course generally easy to recognize. Some maneuvering is required.
  • Class III: DIFFICULT--Numerous rapids with high and irregular waves. Narrow passages that often require complex maneuvering. Course not always easily recognizable.
  • Class IV: VERY DIFFICULT--Long rapids characterized by high and irregular waves with boulders directly in swift current. Course often difficult to recognize requiring some scouting from bank.
  • Class V: EXCEEDINGLY DIFFICULT--Continuous rocky rapids with high and irregular broken water which cannot be avoided. Extremely fast flow, abrupt bends, and strong cross currents. Class V river ratings present difficult rescue conditions. Frequent inspections from bank necessary.
  • Class VI: LIMIT OF NAVIGABILITY--Class V difficulties increased to the upper limits of skill and equipment. Extremely dangerous. This classification of rapids is for teams of experts only.

Threats to Rivers in Arkansas

Rivers are special. They always have been; always will be--we hope.

The truth is, though, that the future of our rivers is anything but guaranteed. The only sure bet is that those we still have will become even more precious and that conservation of rivers will become more important as time goes by.

The major threats to rivers in Arkansas are projects--projects for water supplies, flood control, hydropower, dredging, and channelization. While the heyday of these developments seems to have peaked, several more major impoundments and stream realignments are already on the drawing boards. Even in cases where some public use is served, these projects each remove another free-flowing stream from a steadily shrinking list.

But dams and dredges are not the only threats to rivers and recreation. Recreationists themselves often create problems by littering, trespassing, leaving gates open, or even damaging property. Since most riparian land remains in private ownership, these actions only serve to create additional conflicts between river users and landowners. Property owners feel compelled to post their lands, thereby reducing floaters' access to streams and rivers. Everybody stands to lose.

The problems of river recreation will not be answered overnight. What will help spur the conservation of rivers is the realization that rivers are critical to the Arkansas way of life, and that their values are indeed fragile. If floaters don't do their part in developing a river ethic for the state and participating in the conservation of rivers, it won't get done. And, our rivers, as we know them now, won't be special; they'll be gone.