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

Kayak lovers often ask What Should You Do When Approaching a Low-Head Dam in Kayaking? Canoeing and kayaking are among the most entertaining water sports that are becoming more popular than ever. Beyond the fact that these occupations are useful in many ways, they can be dangerous if you don’t follow the primary safety issues.

One of the most dangerous occasions you may encounter while kayaking is to find yourself with a low-lying prey.

The death rate is increasing, especially now that these outdoor occupations are a stress reliever for quite a few.

What is Low Head Dam?

They are artificial constructions that have the possibility of crossing the whole width of the river. In most cases, they run across the entire width of the river.

The most relevant thing is that the low height dams are built to raise the rivers’ water scenarios.

They primarily assist depopulated areas to get a larger proportion of water supply to please their claims. However, for most people who use a kayak, this can be a nightmare to come.

They also can drown the entire kayak. A low dam is created to raise the river’s water level to reach more surfaces and assist with irrigation and water supply.

As you will know these dams across the width of the river on all sides

Because a low-lying dam runs more intensely in the water, the river area looks very smooth. Low head dams are characterized by their low height, usually with a drop of one foot to 15 feet, making it easier for the water to move over the dam.

Water falling on the dam creates highly aerated circulating currents that trap people and items underwater against the dam’s face below the area.

Why is Low Head Dams Dangerous?

What Should You Do When Approaching a Low Head Dam in Kayaking

Difficult to locate

When you’re approaching a low-head dam, the primary drawback is that it’s feasible not to know you’re headed for one. As previously stated, these dams are built a little deeper than you might expect.

Also, detecting them is dependent on how much light is shining on the water. If the surrounding conditions are not in your favor, you may not recognize that there is a dam on the trail.

Many kayakers also expect to find some sign or mark that warns them of these prey’s existence, but this is rarely true.

There are almost 2500 dams worldwide that do not have any markings, according to some research. (kayakingventure.com)

A 2014 survey of low-lying dams in the U.S. showed that 28 states did not maintain particular inventories of the number of low-lying barriers in their states.

This means there are probably 2,594 low head dams in the U.S.

They don’t always have the mandatory observation warnings.

Deployable Action

The mechanism by which the dam works makes a strong current in the water known as “backwashing.”

This current drags everything that gets in the way so that it can throw your canoe into the water, and also, the exceptional swimmers won’t be able to escape from such high pressure.

Backwash or boil

When water flows over the dam, it always creates hydraulic pressure. This is also often referred to as boiling. This hydraulic pressure is commonly called backwash. The backwash mechanism creates a strong circulating current near the area.

If you are traveling with a kayak, you may be attracted to the pressure due to the strong current. As a result, the kayak begins to drown. The greatest danger is that it requires colossal force to distance itself from this current, and it is possible that it will not be able to swim either.

For that reason, most low-loaded prey is known as drowning machines.

Difficult rescue

When the kayak falls into the water, it is trapped inside the machine. Any effort to save someone trapped in the kayak will be in vain.

Even if the kayaker uses a PFD, there is a small promise that he or she will come out alive.

Seeing the tiny drop and the smooth water flowing does not indicate how destructive the water’s force below can be.

Remember that water can take you out of your kayak at a moment’s notice. You can swim very well, but this kind of force is beyond our control, so be very careful!

The debris, like the branches, will seem so overwhelming no matter how strong you are. You will be sucked in and shot at all times.

Read More: What Piece of Safety Equipment is required on every Canoe and Kayak

As the water flows and creates a hydraulic system, the water runs through the dams more and more. It is strong enough to pull an object near the area towards the dam.

So, it’s an educated guess that your kayak will be pulled towards the dam, keeping you trapped against the barrier.

The incoming water over the dam will pull you and your kayak underwater, making it difficult for you to escape. 

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

So, there you are in your kayak, paddling, suddenly you find warning signs of a “Low Dam,” written in red.

Watch out 

Be aware of the existence of a low-lying dam.

Even if most of these dams are unmarked, you may be lucky enough to see a warning sign or admit to a change in water pressure.

Avoid it

Evading the low dam with surprise, but it’s undoubtedly one of the only ways to get safe. Of course, there is no safe technique for getting around the low dam. That’s why you have to avoid it at all costs.

Although only some of the low-lying dams are marked, there will be some floating warnings on the primary barriers. Be sure to observe them and quickly turn your kayak in the opposite direction.

This will save you from any fatal incident.

Paddling to shore

If you find any signs of low-lying prey near you, you must hold the kayak safely and securely.

Of course, you will not fully back the kayak since there is only a current flowing around it.

For that reason, escaping from the water should be the first thing you do to concentrate on. If you are in trouble like this, you must locate the nearest usable bank. Make sure you can safely arrive at the kayak and walk close to the dam.

Begin paddling as fast as you can so that your agility is always higher than the pull of the low-lying levee.

Take the kayak

If you are successful enough to get back to safety, you must go through the dam naturally. Taking the road or bank alternative would be the safest way out to avoid the low-lying barrier.

You must pull the kayak across the dam to reach a safe space. Ensure that you can remove the kayak safely from the low barrier to have no strong currents around it.

Start again from a sector that is not so extensive. This way, you can save a lot of effort.

Tips for Avoiding Low-Head Dam

What Should You Do When Approaching a Low Head Dam in Kayaking

Before you start the process of rafting on the river, begin cataloging information from the local guide. This will help you start planning the route. Of course, you will get to know the dams that they represent around.

Finding a low-lying dam is not going to be complicated if you know about them. In most cases, they are built near concrete walls, and you can control those unmarked areas.

Look for the weather conditions. Low-lying dams start working when the water level is prominent, and for that reason, you should stop rafting after heavy rainfall. Always try to raft when the weather is clear, and there is no potential increase in water.

Make an agile plan

Finding a route to escape will help you drive the circumstance much more quickly. It is essential to maintain calm and composure.

If you are not familiar with the sector, you can seek assistance from other paddlers who might know you better.

Stay on the safe side.

Be sure to check the kayak season map before planning your trips. It is preferable to avoid kayaking after heavy rainfalls because the increased water pressure makes it more difficult to escape.

Finally, remember not to cross these dams. Some kayakers can think that they can make it, but you have to understand that you will be risking your life. It is more rational to avoid this traumatic experience. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you escape a low head dam?

An individual is trapped by being pushed down and back when the water recirculates. If the dam extends across the river’s entire width, it is only feasible to escape by diving to the bottom to catch the spillway.

Can you kayak over a dam?

Your kayak can probably get back into the barrier after paddling over it, trapping you against the barricade.

This can pull you and your kayak underwater, making it very difficult to escape.

What should you not do while kayaking?

  • Obstacles
  • Bad weather
  • Artificial water controls
  • Kayak alone
  • The route that is not correct for your rowing level
  • Drinking alcohol before starting the trip
  • Incomplete set
  • Low bridges
  • Do not bring social instruments to inform and communicate
  • Do not bring first aid and repair kits
  • Not understanding how to get back
  • Not getting the necessary privileges 


It is always considered to leave the low load dam and for that reason taking precautionary steps is still a considerable aspect to consider

However, going through a low-lying dam is scary, with a right eye, and if you already know what to do if you are with one, you may very well get through it.

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