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Safety info for paddlers

Paddling on the Fox River is an activity the whole family can enjoy.  However, many factors can change a pleasant, casual paddle into a dangerous situation. Before launching, acquaint yourself with the route.  Review boating safety practices and consider how to adjust plans given potential changes in weather. Although most sections of the river flow, gently please be aware that dams, high water (and low bridges), downed trees, and seasonal rapids can pose serious hazards to boaters. Specifically:

  • Always wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved life jacket (Personal Floatation Device, or PFD): it’s a proven life-saver.
  • Travel with a companion or group.  Plan your trip with a map before departing and advise someone you trust of your plans, such as your route, launch and take-out site(s), boat description, and estimated times of departure and arrival.
  • Most people paddle two to three river miles per hour; water levels can speed up or slow down a trip.
  • Be prepared should the conditions become worse than expected. Water levels change from season to season and with little notice due to rain events.  Check the  National Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service for river stage and forecast information among sites along the Fox River in the following website:
  • All paddlers, even the most experienced, should take caution considering low bridge heights above water.
  • Dams require portaging. Other obstructions, such as log jams, may also require portaging.  Be aware of river obstructions such as overhanging branches or dead trees under water which may not be visible. These obstructions can flip a watercraft.
  • Portions of the Fox River are navigable for power boats and other fast moving watercrafts. Please review the recommended paddler route through the Fox River Chain of Lakes to reduce proximity to power boats and be cautious if near them.
  • Protect the water and shore lands.  Remember that much of the shore lands are privately owned.
  • Always carry plenty of water and food; stay fueled and hydrated.
  • Be aware of your abilities and limitations; take an on-water class to further your abilities.
  • When paddling in a group, never paddle beyond the abilities of your weakest paddler.
  • Bring a basic first aid and repair kit, bilge pump, sunglasses, sun screen and bug repellant.
  • Wear quick dry clothing, when possible, and proper water shoes.
  • Always check the condition of your gear before departure; carry a spare paddle.
  • In cold months, be aware of the symptoms and treatment for hypothermia. Cold water can be extremely dangerous.

Please plan ahead, be careful, and be sure to review the resources below. A successful river trip is a safe river trip.  The American Canoe Association provides excellent paddlesport safety information:

The National Park service has some great information on paddler safety at:

Additional information to help safely plan your trip can be found at: