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

Kayaking is a common outdoor sport that a lot of people love. Although kayaking can provide physical and mental advantages, there are some risks that could cause problems in the water. However, don’t worry we’ve prepared it for you. Today, we’ll discuss the steps to take when you are nearing a low-head dam with a kayak.

What Should You Do When Approaching a Low-Head Dam in a Canoe or Kayak-pin

Most of the time kayaking can be a secure outdoor activity so provided you adhere to some basic guidelines. Always wear a life vest when you’re on the water and have to be attentive to the surroundings.

One risky obstacle you may encounter is a low-head dam. In a similar manner, an infinity swimming pool seems to go on, as does a low-head dam, while the river seems calm all the way. That being said we’ll take a closer look at what you can and what you can do to be protected if you come across an unsteady dam.

What Is a Low Head Dam?

The low-head dam (also called a run-of-river dam) is constructed by a man generally running across the length of the river. They are designed to raise the level of water to increase the flow of water and to improve irrigation of the area. But the drawback to this type of dam is that it could be especially dangerous for canoeists, kayakers, and swimmers/bathers. Irrigation and water supplies are improved by these dams. By regulating the continuous water flow rate, the dams improve water supplies and irrigation.

What Is a Low Head Dam?

Dams with low heads are usually difficult to recognize (making them extremely risky) since they appear flat from the surface when you come closer. The actual low-head dams could be situated just a few feet below that water’s surface, subject to the conditions.

When water pressure flows across the dam, hydro (backwash or boil) is produced. The water pulls objects that are close to the surface back toward the low-head dams. This means that the kayak might be returned to the dam after you have paddled across it, and shackled on the low-head dam.

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The water irrigation that flows over the dam will drag the personal flotation device and you into it, making it very difficult to get out.

Rainfall often results in debris in low-head dams, including tree branches and other solid materials floating in the water. This makes getting out more difficult. Low-head dams do not require a huge size to be a cause of a potentially fatal accident. Even low-head dams that are relatively shallow can be deadly. It’s not the dimensions of the dam but the power of the flow.

Drowning zone

Kayaking following heavy rain clearly increases the risk. In addition, with more precipitation comes more debris – especially the branches of trees that might have snapped off when winds were strong. This increases the chance of being trapped.

It’s no surprise that you should always wear a PFD all the time while paddling. Don’t get complacent simply for the sake of wearing one. You could still be pulled down the currents – yes, they are strong!

Why Are Low-Head Dams Dangerous? 

Very difficult to spot approaching a low head

The main issue you face when facing a low-head dam is that you may not realize what you’re going toward one. As I mentioned before the dams are constructed in a different way than you would think they would be.

The way to spot them is dependent on how the light hits the water for the largest part. If the conditions around you don’t favor you it is likely that you’ll not be able to see an obstruction in the way.

What Is a Low Head Dam - pin

Furthermore, just kayakers are hoping to see marking or warning signs to inform them about the existence of low-head dams, however, this isn’t usually the case. Even if you find an indication, however, it’s likely that you’ll miss it if you’re kayaking or fishing.

Pull-Down Action

The mechanism through which the dam operates creates an intense current to flow through the water, which is referred to by the term “backwash.” The current is able to pull down anything into the way, and it will draw your canoe right into the local waterways. Even the most skilled swimmers will not be able to withstand such pressure. You will encounter high hydraulic forces and low buoyancy there.

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Difficult Rescue

If the kayak is lowered to the bottom of the ocean, it becomes stuck inside the machine. Anyone who tries to rescue someone stuck in the kayak would be futile. Even if the person in the kayak is wearing PFDs, there’s a small chance they’ll be able to escape alive.

So, in summary, what should you do when approaching a low-head dam in a canoe or kayak?

Imagine yourself on your kayak, paddling, and having a blast. Then you spot something that isn’t normal. It was a flat river surface initially but then, in a flash, it transformed into an erupting waterfall. It was clearly a mini one.

Then you notice orange warning signs that say low-head dam ahead. It is imperative to take action because time is running out and you’re moving closer. Based on the circumstances there are a few things you can take care of.

  • Get out of the kayak.
  • Beware of the low-head dam.
  • Walk around on foot.

Begin paddling towards the point of boiling in the low-head dam and keep an appropriate distance.

So, in summary, what should you do when approaching a low-head dam in a canoe or kayak

When you come to an abyssal low-head dam What do you do? The only option is to stay clear of it. Once you’ve seen the warning sign, don’t proceed any further.

Bring your canoe up to the bank closest to you and traverse the low head dam on foot. The only alternative is to stroll through the lake. It is likely that you have seen experienced canoeists, as well as kayakers, tackle these low-head dams in the face.

What’s the issue here? How can they accomplish this? Can I do it?

Then you’ll require steel balls for this. Keep in mind that the stakes are extremely high and there’s an extremely slim chance that you’ll survive. There are many other activities to take care of.

What Do You Do If You See One?

Beware of it at all cost

There isn’t a method to safely cross the low-head dams with a low head and it shouldn’t be attempted in any way. If you are aware of the exact area where the upcoming dam is located, you can see an alert sign or suspect there could be one ahead of you, then the most effective and most secure option is to stay clear of it at all costs.

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Paddle along the shore

If you believe you’re nearing a low-head dam with low heat, it is crucial to remove yourself from the water. You can paddle to a part of the shoreline from where you are able to safely get out of your boat and walk off the river.

The dam’s portage

When you are done within the river, you are able to navigate around it by moving the kayak around the low-head dam. If you decide on this route, you’ll need to travel some distance down the river to get away from the dam as the area of water disruption the dam causes may extend by a considerable distance.

Beware of the Drowning Machine

One of the most crucial things to keep in mind regarding low-head dams is the fact that they can be extremely dangerous, especially for kayakers. There is no way to safely navigate one. The only way you can safely navigate around an unintentionally low-head dam is to steer clear of it. Some are not clearly marked on maps or properly marked, so it is essential to be on the lookout for them. If you spot one, the best alternative is to take a kayak into the bank. take out and carry your kayak around it.


Low-head dams with low heads can be dangerous, particularly for kayakers. There isn’t a safe method to get around the drowning machine. The best thing to do when you come across an abysmal dam is to paddle to shore to be sure and be able to assess the situation.

Low-head dams can be hard to recognize and aren’t always marked with warning signs. The high flow of water across the low-head dam is not a good spot to be in. Avoid kayaking in areas with low-head dams.

Make sure you are safe, wear a life jacket, and always keep your eyes open for dangers that could be lurking around while paddling.

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