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AW's Safety Program

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.

  1. Wear your Life Jacket regardless of boat type or difficulty of water. A third of all whitewater accidents could have been prevented if the victim was wearing a life vest; many deaths occur in very easy rapids!
  2. Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs. Alcohol dulls reflexes and survival responses and is often linked to fatalities. Celebrate at your campsite or home.
  3. Know the river to prevent unpleasant surprises. Find out what lies downstream. Check the AW site, guidebooks, Google earth, and get advice from paddlers who have been there!
  4. Avoid extremes of weather and water: Very high flows and cold temperatures pose special challenges to paddlers. If you don't have the specialized gear and skills needed, wait until conditions improve.
  5. Avoid dams: Small low-head dams are responsible for over 8% of river fatalities. Most are much worse than they look! Know the location of dams before launching on a river, and avoid getting too close to the upstream or downstream sides of them.

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 ccwalbridge@cs.com. If you have questions or comments about any accident please email info(at)americanwhitewater.org.

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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