article photo 34361.jpg

River Safety Signage Project RFP

Posted: 12/05/2019
by Thomas O'Keefe

With a recent grant from the United States Coast Guard, American Whitewater is launching a project to develop an open-source toolbox for river safety signage. We are issuing this Request for Proposals for assistance in this effort.

1. Background and Issue Project Seeks to Address

As the recognized expert in whitewater safety for over 60 years and publisher of the Whitewater Safety Code, American Whitewater is often called upon to provide input on safety messaging for signage at river access points. Requests for assistance come from river managers (e.g. federal agencies including Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service; state agencies; and local counties and municipalities), hydropower operators (many hydropower facilities are required to provide signage and safety information as part of mitigation requirements for water-based recreation at their facilities), and our affiliate clubs (our members and local clubs have sites that are directly managed by the whitewater paddling community--e.g. Watauga, Upper Yough, etc.).

Currently most safety signage projects are done as a one-off projects with a graphic designer who has little to no familiarity with whitewater recreation. The quality of the resulting signage varies, messaging is inconsistent (every sign is different), too many words are used, and use of iconography or graphic elements is often limited. Even a simple description of the class I-V International Scale of River Difficulty varies among signs. While the description within the Safety Code of American Whitewater is widely recognized as the standard, it is over 600 words in length and different designers make various judgement calls to reduce the word count for a sign.

American Whitewater is an equal opportunity employer.


2. Project Goals and Scope of Services


The goal of the project is to develop an open-source toolbox that includes text (e.g. standard language describing river difficulty ratings, PFD use and wear, safe boating practices, etc.), vector-graphic illustrations (e.g. river signals and iconography), and guidance on how to use the elements. Our ultimate objective is to improve river safety by providing necessary information to those engaging in river recreation. We will accomplish this by applying our knowledge and expertise in river safety to development of nationally-standardized materials and educational resources that are widely used and understood.

a) Message development: Our current safety code is distributed as a pamphlet and published on our website. While experienced paddlers are exposed to our safety messages, we have observed that these formats for information distribution are not effective in reaching the broader river-running community. River managers lack the resources to develop signage at the point of entry for river trips concise and simple (an exception to this is the Wear It campaign of the National Safe Boating Council). Topics we will focus on include the importance of boater education, choosing (i.e. understanding the label) and wearing the appropriate life jacket, hazards of cold weather and water and importance of checking conditions, consequences of irresponsible behavior on the water, and boating under the influence, and understanding river difficulty.

b) Graphic development: The average river user only spends a few seconds reading a sign. For this reason, symbology and pictograms can serve as an important communication tool. We have graphic elements to illustrate river signals but the iconography is extremely dated and in need of updating. Additionally our imagery is not available in vector graphic format preferred by designers. Stock imagery used by designers is often not appropriate for whitewater recreation; it is not uncommon for a graphic designer to choose a horse-collar life jacket, a sea kayak, or diver's drysuit on signage meant for river runners. Our goal is to provide vector-graphic line art and stock imagery that is modern and appropriate for river-based recreation.

c) Best Practices Document: The project will include development of a guidance document for graphic designers and decision makers involved in sign development that includes introductory materials that explain why the purpose of the various text and graphic elements and how they can be most effectively applied. This document will be accessible to a local community planner with no previous river safety experience who may be tasked with developing a safety sign but provide enough detail for a designer to execute the project. The document will also discuss where customization is appropriate (e.g. for a map) and outline an approach to obtain necessary site-specific information.

In addition to the materials and guidance above, which will allow any river or site manager to customize signage appropriate to their location, we will develop guidance for standard sign templates that can be used by those who do not have access to resources for design.

American Whitewater will disseminate the work products supported by this grant through our website in the form of a freely-accessible toolbox that includes suggested text, graphic elements and line art in vector-graphic format, and a guidance documents that articulate best practices for sign development. Our website is recognized as the go-to resource for information on whitewater paddling by both the general boating public and agency staff who manage rivers. We will share the results of our work with the River Management Society and Wild and Scenic Rivers Interagency Coordinating Council through print articles and electronic media.

3. Skills and Experience of American Whitewater

We expect the successful applicant to utilize the skills and expertise of American Whitewater. American Whitewater staff have worked on dozens of signage projects. Thomas O'Keefe is the organization's Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director and will oversee the project on the staff side. He has over 25 years of professional experience with water safety instruction, river management and safety, sign development at river access sites, and project management; he serves on the Washington State Paddlesports Advisory Committee, chartered by the Washington State Recreational Boating Safety Safety Program to decrease paddlesports fatalities. Kevin Colburn is American Whitewater's National Stewardship Director and will provide technical expertise for this project; he has over 16 years of professional experience with river safety, risk management, and project management. Evan Stafford is American Whitewater's Communications Director and brings his experience as a guidebook author, graphic designer, scientist, public outreach specialist, and project manager. Charlie Walbridge serves on the American Whitewater board and is nationally recognized expert in whitewater safety and the organization's Safety Editor. Charlie, who led our most recent update to the Safety Code of American Whitewater, will provide editorial assistance in a volunteer capacity. We also have an interest in utilizing the experience of the State Boating Law Administrators for Washington and Oregon in project review.


3. Anticipated Selection Schedule 

The Request for Proposal timeline is as follows:

Publication of Request for Proposal: December 4, 2019

Deadline for Bidders to Submit Questions: December 18, 2019

American Whitewater Responds to Bidder Questions: December 27, 2019

Deadline for Proposals: January 8, 2020

Selection of Top Bidders / Notification to Unsuccessful Bidders: January 15, 2020

Start of Negotiation: January 15, 2020

Contract Award: January 22, 2020


4. Time and Place of Submission of Proposals 

Responses must be received no later than January 8, 2020. Responses should have the subject "River Safety Signage Project" and be emailed to Thomas O'Keefe <>.


5. Timeline 

American Whitewater needs the project completed by September 30, 2020. Applicants should provide an approximate timeline for the project that can meet this deadline with review steps.


6. Elements of Proposal 

A submission must, at a minimum, include the following elements:

Cover Letter 

Summarize your firm's interest in working on this project and outline the firm's strengths and distinguishing skills or capabilities as they relate to American Whitewater and the project.

Firm Information and Key Personnel

Describe the firm, individual, or team and fields of expertise. Identify the proposed project team. Supply names, brief summaries, roles for each team member, and qualifying experience.

Previous Experience

Provide a representative selection of projects created for current and past clients that best illustrate qualifications for the project. Examples may include, logos, icons, instructional/safety materials, print samples, signage samples etc.

Project Approach

Provide a narrative statement demonstrating an understanding of the overall intent of the RFP, as well as methods used to complete assigned tasks.

Project Budget

Submit a proposed project budget itemized by task and total project cost.


7. Evaluation Criteria 

The successful Applicant will:

Demonstrate in the submission a high level of understanding and experience in graphic design and working with icons and symbols. 

Be proficient in the Adobe Suites programs (Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign) and Microsoft Word.

Possess knowledge and capabilities to perform print design and environmental graphic design services

Demonstrate examples of working with icons and symbols in both print material and applying them to exterior elements like signage.

Have some experience with nonprofits and working on a nonprofit budget.


8. Budget 

American Whitewater's budget for the project is $50,000.

Thomas O'Keefe
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
Phone: 425-417-9012