10 Safety Tips for Kayaking & Rafting in High Water


Photo of Black Foot River Missoula, Montana area - June 2011It’s mid-June and the rivers are still running high in the Missoula Valley.  Even though the water levels are high, there are still some great recreational opportunities out there.  High water doesn’t mean you can’t get out on Western Montana waters.  However, you must be smart and take precautions.

Please read carefully — I’m NOT encouraging people to test their skills and disregard how powerful and high the rivers are.  It doesn’t matter what the water levels are, the river always demands respect.  You should be on your “A” game at all times.

I get upset when I see people out on the gorge floating through the Tumbleweed rapids with no life preservers and beer cans flying out of the raft.

Photo of High Water Flooding on the Clark Fork River in Missoula

It is vital to respect the river at all times, regardless of the location, class, and water levels.

High water aside, you can still experience river sports in high water, IF you do so wisely. For example, this is the best time of the year to float the Blackfoot River.  It’s quiet, fast, packed with nice waves, and beautiful scenery. It’s super fun.

It’s also a great time to learn the sport of kayaking.  Here at Zoo Town Surfers, we start all of our beginners in FLAT WATER. There are also plenty of lakes and ponds to learn kayaking and  go stand-up paddle boarding.

To make sure you’re safe when rafting or kayaking in high water, here are 10 tips for follow:

  1. If you have any doubts about river safety, use your intuition and don’t put yourself in danger.
  2. Call the local shops and river rafting companies to get an update on conditions before you go.
  3. Do your rafting or kayaking with a local rafting / kayaking company that understands conditions.
  4. Don’t just have the right gear — know exactly how to use it before your go.
  5. Always boat with a buddy – there is greater safety in numbers.
  6. Take a swift water rescue class.
  7. Be sure to wear good river shoes.
  8. Be prepared and dress for the takeout.
  9. Always maintain the unbroken chain on the river (make sure you can see from lead to sweep).
  10. Stay alert, avoid alcohol on the river, and remain vigilant at all times.


Like this blog by one of Missoula’s legendary kayakers?  Check out these other blogs by Jason Shreder, owner of Zoo Town Surfers: Go with the Flow and Get in the Know or Kayaking the Lochsa River or The Sellway River – A Preason Kayaking Treat .

You may also want to check out our page on Missoula Kayaking, Canoeing, and Rafting.

See Jason Shredder’s “Go With the Flow” archive.


Jason Shreder, owner of local whitewater company Zoo Town Surfers. I love Missoula, the great community, and all the awesome water that surrounds it.  I’m constantly moving and 90% of that movement involves kayaking, rafting, working, and hanging out with my awesomely supportive girlfriend and dogs.