Trip Preparation and Planning

Trip Preparation & Planning Photo

Are you planning your next trip? Follow these safety guidelines to help ensure a safe and enjoyable excursion. 

Pre-Trip Planning:

  • Know the waters to be paddled. River and coastal guide books and topographic maps are valuable references in trip planning. Plan alternate routes
  • Set-up a shuttle. Calculate the distance and time. Consider stops and a lunch break, along with put in and take out locations
  • Equipment - What you take with you on a trip is all that you have to survive and rescue yourself. This includes water, food, maps and charts, rescue equipment and extra clothes
  • File a Float Plan with someone who will notify others if you don't return on time
  • Paddle within your, and your group's, abilities and limits

On Water Behavior and Etiquette:

  • Be a competent swimmer with the ability to handle oneself underwater, on moving water, and in surf or current
  • Have a properly fitted life jacket (Personal Flotation Device - PFD), and WEAR IT!
  • Keep the craft under control. Do not enter a rapid unless reasonably sure you can navigate it or swim the entire rapid in case you capsize
  • Keep a lookout for hazards and avoid them. Watch for fog, especially on coastal waters
  • Know your emotional and physical limitations
  • Group members need to constantly assess the behavior of others in their group
  • Respect the rights of anglers and land owners when paddling

Know the Conditions  

For Flat Water

  • Remember to watch for water and weather changes - beware of fog
  • Keep an eye out for other boat traffic
  • Pay attention to all safety warnings
  • Be sure you are visible

For Whitewater and Rivers

  • Stay on the inside of bends - Beware of strainers! Strainers are fallen trees; bridge pilings, undercut rocks or anything else that allows the current to flow through it while holding you. Strainers are deadly
  • Walk around low-head dams
  • Watch for and avoid hydraulics (water recirculating back on itself)
  • If in doubt, get out and scout!

For Coastal Areas

  • Stay close to shore
  • As you travel away from shelter, make sure you have the necessary skills to travel back
  • Watch conditions for winds and fog
  • Understand wave height, wind speed (Beaufort Scale), fetch and how it will impact your travel
  • Stay aware of all boat traffic and traffic patterns
  • Learn re-entry techniques BEFORE you need them, know how to re-enter your boat and how to assist others back into their craft
  • Stay apprised of tidal currents and their affects on you and your boat
  • Watch for landing in surf or passing through the surf zone to shore

Wear It! Life Jackets Matter

  • Expect to capsize and swim occasionally when paddling a canoe, kayak or raft - it’s part of the sport! But when you hit the water unexpectedly, even strong swimmers need a life jacket, also known as a personal flotation device (PFD). It allows you to concentrate on doing what’s needed to execute a self-rescue and will allow you to assist others.
  • Nearly 70% of all drowning involving canoes, kayaks or rafts might have been avoided if the victim
    had been wearing a life jacket!
  • Because paddlers wear their life jackets all day, make sure yours has a secure, yet comfortable, fit. When wearing a life jacket properly you will hardly know you have it on. Although all USCG-approved life jackets meet certain strength and buoyancy standards, they are NOT all the same. Spend some extra money for a higher-quality model. It will have softer foam, a more comfortable fit and improved adjustability.

It’s the Law!

  • Federal and State laws dictate when PFD (life jacket) use is necessary.
  • Where no state laws exist, federal law requires that children under the age of 13 wear a life jacket on a recreational boat, unless the child is below deck, in an enclosed cabin, or if the boat is not under way. Since most paddle-craft don’t have decks below or cabins, this means all the time when in use.
  • Check with your state boating officials regarding your state requirements. Set a good example for youngsters: Wear Your Life jacket.

Spotting a Potential Accident

Accidents don’t just happen. They usually result from the interaction of a series of smaller events or misjudgments, which culminate in major accident. Experts analyze accidents in terms of their human, equipment and environmental factors. Usually, any one factor will not lead to an accident. However, the presence of three or more factors in a paddling situation is a sign of serious trouble.­­­­­­­­­­­­

Human Factors:
  • Consumption of alcohol
  • Not wearing a life jacket
  • Lack of familiarity with river
  • Insufficient skill level
  • Paddling alone or in a group with less than three boats
Equipment Factors:
  • Poorly maintained equipment (i.e. cracked paddles, leaky rafts)
  • Little or no floatation
  • No Spare paddle
  • No First aid kit
  • Improper or inadequate dress
Environmental Factors:
  • High water
  • Cold water
  • Dams (Hydraulics)
  • Strainers (down trees)
  • Undercut rocks
  • Remoteness
  • Changing weather conditions

Know Who to Call:

The water ways in our area are affected by the dam releases. It is always important to know what level the waterways are flowing at and not put yourself or others in danger if it is above your skill level. Below are some of the waterways in our area and the contact information for the each.

Tennessee River

  • Who governs: Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
  • Website:
  • Phone number for water schedule: 423-751-2264

Hiwassee River

  • Who governs: Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
  • Website:
  • Phone numbers: 800-238-2264 (toll free) Reservoir code 21

South Chickamauga Creek

  • Who governs: Chattanooga Audubon Society
  • Website:
  • Phone numbers 423-892-1499

Nickajack Lake/Reservoir/Dam

  • Who governs: Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
  • Website:
  • Phone numbers: 800-238-2264 (toll free) Reservoir code 28

Rainbow Lake

  • Who governs: Town of Signal Mountain, TN
  • Website:
  • Phone numbers: 423-886-2177

Parksville Lake

  • Who governs: Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
  • Website:
  • Phone numbers: 865-632-2101

Booker T. Washington

  • Who governs: Booker T. Washington State Park, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
  • Website:
  • Phone numbers: 423-894-4955; 800-238-2264 (toll free) Reservoir code 27

Chester Frost

  • Who governs: City of Chattanooga, TN
  • Website:
  • Phone numbers: 423-842-0177

Lookout Creek

  • Who governs: Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
  • Website:
  • Phone numbers: 800-238-2264 (toll free) Reservoir code 27

Soddy Lake

  • Who governs: City of Soddy-Daisy, TN
  • Website: www.
  • Phone numbers: 423-332-5323

For other questions or concerns you can call the friendly staff at UTC Outdoors.

(423) 425-5750