What Should You Do When Approaching a Low-Head Dam in a Canoe?

Low Head Dams In A Canoe

You are on the river canoeing and you see a sign that tells you that you are approaching a low-head dam. You don’t remember any canoeing tips to help you deal with the situation. And, because you are solo canoeing, you don’t have anyone to ask for advice. What do you do?

Not sure? Don’t worry; it’s not like it is something that you will deal with often. Still, it is helpful to know what to do if it does happen to you. There are a couple of different ways to deal with this, and we will go through these in this post.

Understand the Danger

The danger is that you don’t usually see these coming. They don’t stick out above the surface. It is hard to figure out how deep they are under the water’s surface. There are a few dangers to be aware of:

  • It can create a strong current that can suck you under.
  • Debris caught in the current could injure you.
  • The sudden change might lead you to overturn.

What to Do

The safest course of action is to get to the bank as soon as you see the signs. Take the canoe out of the water and walk past the dam. This is the right course of action to undertake if you are trying a stretch of water for the first time, or if you are on your own.

If you have been along the stretch of water before, and decide that you want to attempt it, move over to the bank and go along carefully until you reach the dam. Go over the top and then paddle as fast as possible to avoid being pulled back in.

If you want to tackle the low-head dam, it is better if you have someone with you. Your going to want to have the best canoe seats to preventing falling out. Go over one at a time. That way, if one of you does get into trouble, the other one can help out.

Avoiding the Situation

Do some research upfront and find out where you might encounter an obstacle like this. If you are new to the area, speak to locals about it. If possible, find someone in the local canoeing club and ask them for advice.

There are many different sites and forums that are easy to find online. If necessary, ask people about what their experiences were and see what they advise you to do.

Before you set out, map out your route and take note of bends and other landmarks that will help you identify the spot where the dam is. Not all dams will be marked, so be sure to do your homework here.


Is one of these dams sufficient reason to avoid a particular stretch of river? No, you want to still have some fun. We do, however, advise that you get to know the lay of the land well enough so that you are not caught unawares.

We suggest erring on the side of caution here. Rather walk past the obstacle than risk getting pulled under.

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