Safety has been a core issue for AW since 1954, and today we are leaders in accident analysis and safety education. Formal risk management is part of all our programs. We work hard to publicize safe practices that help everyone enjoy our rivers safely and advise legislative bodies and river managers on the best ways to educate whitewater paddlers.
The reports collected in the database give AW a reliable overview of the accidents, near misses, and serious injuries occurring in whitewater sport. They come from a variety of sources from sketchy newspaper accounts and internet postings to detailed first-person observations and carefully compiled accounts. While every effort is made to insure accuracy, these are not formal investigations. Our intent is not to place “blame” for what happened, but to learn as much as possible to provide real-world focus for our safety program.
While all outdoor recreation has inherent risks, many whitewater accidents are preventable. Here are some simple things YOU can do to stay safe.
For more useful advice, consult the AW Safety Code. It contains many costly lessons learned by the whitewater paddling community over the last 50+ years!
TheAccident Database is a comprehensive collection and analysis of whitewater accidents and close calls. To Report an Accident: We invite witnesses to submit personal accounts and others to submit newspaper articles and internet postings. If your material is not original, please credit the source. If you have corrections or additions to an accident report please email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions or comments about any accident please post them on the AW Safety Forum or email the safety committee.
CAUTION: This database, while extensive, is not complete. A significant number of accidents are not reported to us. Confusion may result when people interpret the data without assistance from the American Whitewater Safety Committee. For example, accidents we tag as “commercial” include guided raft tours, kayak schools, and canoe liveries. They also include programs run by schools, camps, colleges, and by rangers at local, state, and national parks. Our numbers, therefore, will probably not agree with organizations which focus on one of more of these subgroups.
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|ID United States||2017-09-29||Christopher Chapman 48||Snake (7 - West Table to Sheep Gulch 7 - West Table to Sheep Gulch (Alpine Canyon)||IV||
Caught in a Natural Hydraulic
|Cold Water/||Fatal Private||Read More|
|AZ United States||2017-09-22||Unidentified Man||Colorado 18. Lee's Ferry to Lake Mead||III+||
|Other/||Injury Private||Read More|
|TN United States||2017-09-16||Unidentified Women||Hiwassee Reliance to U.S. 411 Bridge||Medium II||
|Inadequate Equipment/||Injury Private||Read More|
|MD United States||2017-09-03||Ursy Potter||Potomac 6. Little Falls||Low III+||
|Other/||Injury Private||Read More|
|NC United States||2017-09-03||Luther Lee Key 70||Yadkin River||N/A||
Kayak - Other-
PFD Not Worn or Present
|One Boat Trip/||Fatal Private||Read More|
After over a year's work American Whitewater has released an upgraded version of their Whitewater Accident Database. It's the largest collection of its kind in the world, with over 1600 fatalities and close calls dating back to 1972. Each report has been checked for accuracy and AW Webmaster Ryan Groth greatly improved the search capacity. You can now locate accidents by a dozen different categories and characteristics. Here's how this project came about, how it evolved, why American Whitewater reports accidents and how you can help us keep this project going in the coming years.
On April 12, 2015 a Canadian paddler visiting the US was killed on the Farmlands section of Washington's White Salmon River. Denis Brown, 63, flipped in "triple Drop" rapid, did not roll, and washed iunto a strainer on the river right bank. Mr. Brown came our of his kayak and pinned against the strainer, and his boat washed down and lodged against him. There is an excellent report of this and the vigorous rescue attempt available now in the AW Accident Database.
Shannon Christy, a charismatic young paddler, was killed in Great Falls of the Potomac River on July 11th, 2013. After bailing out below Grace Under Pressure, one of the center chutes, she washed over the notorious "Middle Finger" drop into the Subway, a deadly sieve. There is a full write-up of this fatality in the AW Accident Database. The photo shows Steve Fisher and Jason Beakes during the difficult body recovery.
On March 9, 2013 Dr. Jim McComb died after his kayak pinned vertically in a small ledge on Arizona's East Verde River. His friend Dr. Bill Langhoffer recently forwarded a detailed description of the pin along with several photos which may be useful to any paddler running difficult whitewater. Photo Caption: This view is from the top of the drop as we found the boat weeks later once the water had receded from 500 to 20 cfs, and had transformed from muddy to clear water. The piton rock can be seen (#2). This small rock at the base of the fall is what stopped his boat. The left slant in the rock at the base of the fall can be noticed (#4), with the boat still leaning in that direction. Once his boat sunk in the water it hit that slant and rotated the boat to the left.Jim was now pinned in the slot between the 2 rocks (Red/White and Black) on the river left (#5).The approximate water line at 500 cfs was drawn into the photo, water line.
American Whitewater's Accident Database contains more than 1000 fatal accidents and near misses reported over the last 35 years. We sometimes give qualified water safety researchers access to this material. Our latest research partner is Ed Kern, a Masters Degree candidate in civil engineering at Brigham Young University in Utah. Click through for more information and a link to his web site.
American Whitewater just received an report on the death of Selby Arno on California's Clear Creek last December. It is very complete and well written; you can read the entire report by clicking on the link below:
A quick-thinking NOC bus driver saved a life during a scheduled September water release on North Carolina’s fast-moving Upper Nantahala River. A kayaker who pulled over above a downed tree didn’t realize that the current there was still powerful enough to cause trouble. Her boat was pushed into and under the log where both disappeared. Fortunately Rob Kelly, a whitewater guide, was driving shuttle bus and witnessed the entrapment. He pulled his bus over and started wading across the river. The rescue was caught by photographer Rick Thompson. To read Mr. Kelly's account, click the link below:
The Little River near Townsend, Tennessee is one of the nicest class III-IV roadside runs in Smokey Mountain National Park. On March 11th an open canoeist flipped in the first drop of "the Meanies" just above The Sinks and washed downstream over a 6' ledge. He was swimming on his back, feet first, lined up with the current when he washed into the backwash and did not reappear. The water "planted" him vertically in rocks below the drop, catching his foot. Many paddlers who were on the river that day participated in the rescue, eventially using a complex live bait system to pull the man free. Click through for a detailed account of what happened.
American Whitewater recently learned that O.K. Goodwin, founder of The Coastal Canoeists (1965) and long-time AW safety chair (1970 to 1987), died on December 3, 2011. He was 90 years old. A lifelong resident of Newport News, VA, he was a designer of merchant ships (and the occasional canoe) for almost four decades. He was an instructor, Scout leader, and a whitewater competitor in C-1 and in C-2 with his wife, Glenna. They were married for 64 years and their daughter Cyndi was a top-ranked K-1W racer. He was well known on the race circuit, always there with his coiled rope at the toughest part of the course. As Safety Chair he discussed the inevitable conflicts between river-savvy paddlers and the wider, less knowledgeable society in which we all live. He pioneered outreach to state and local government and encouraged others to do the same. His work laid important foundation for today's American Whitewater. (Drawing by Les Fry in CoastalCaNews)
Pillow Rock Rapid on West Virginia’s Upper Gauley has been thought of as big, powerful, but relatively hazard free. That changed on October 10th when veteran paddler Mark Hanna died after pinning on a previously unknown undercut rock.His friends agree on these facts: At Pillow rock, running fourth in a group of 9, he flipped on the big pressure wave that gives the rapid its name. He attempted 3-5 rolls as he washed downstream. As he did this, he was pushed to the right just downstream of Volkswagen Rock (A,B). He came out of his kayak just above a giant rock that guards the bottom of the right-side eddy. As he bailed out, his face appeared for an instant before he was pushed under the right corner of the rock (C).
Photo shows Flatliner Falls, the site of Carl Schneider's drowning on the Upper Blackwater River in West Virginia on October 2, 2010.This classic Class V run was running at 400 cfs, a high but commonly run level, when a group of 7 expert paddlers put in below the falls. Mr. Schneider missed a boof and washed over a 6’ ledge sideways. His bow hit rocks at the bottom, and the left side of his boat washed against an underwater rock shelf protruding from the ledge (foreground). It was an angled vertical pinning, with the current forcing him against his back deck. There was no air pocket.
On August 29th Susan Marie Kaiser paddled the “Lowbin” section of the North Fork of the Feather in an inflatable kayak. According to postings in Boof.com, Ms. Kaiser, a former river guide, flipped her IK on a large breaking wave near the bottom in a long Class IV rapid below the first (Bucks Creek) power house. The current pushed her to the left where she pinned in a slot between a large boulder and a smaller submerged boulder to its left. One of the paddlers in her group managed to swim into the small pocket eddy behind the boulder and tried to pull her out, but she was wedged in too tightly. The photo by Jeff Sailus shows a kayak pinned in the same spot.
River outfitters and American Whitewater joined together decades ago to protect the Gauley River from hydro development. The success of these business enterprises were one of the key reasons that the river was protected as a National Recreation Area. But with success has come new challenges. Professional guides find the number of kayakers on the Upper Gauley overwhelming at times and kayakers also find the number of rafts intimidating. Regardless of any “right of way”, it’s everyone’s job to avoid crashes! Here’s what you can do to avoid collisions with commercial rafts.
A CNN story on whitewater rafting deaths published in September 2006 omits the fact that most of the fatalities cited by the article did not occur on commercial raft trips, said to David Brown, Executive Director of America Outdoors (AO). America Outdoors is a national association of outfitters, which includes many whitewater rafting companies. The story cites 50 whitewater deaths and infers that they were on commercial rafting trips due to lax state regulation. Brown says his data shows 10 fatalities on guided, commercial raft trips in 2006. None of the deaths on commercial trips were the result of a customer not wearing a life jacket. Of the eight rafting deaths cited in Oregon by CNN, none were on a commercially guided trip.
To make corrections to information found in the Accident Database, please contact: Charlie Walbridge, Accident Database Manager, Bruceton Mills, WV email: ccwalbridge(at)cs.com.