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River and Boating Safety

Download Gear Checklists to be sure you have all necessary equipment for river travel.

Kids don't float sign with BLM volunteerKIDS DON'T FLOAT

There are child-sized life jackets available to borrow at many of the BLM boat launches. Visitors are encouraged to borrow the vests in the event one was forgotten for any children in the group. Vests can be returned at any of the "Kids Don't Float" facilities.


  • Solo travel is not recommended, always travel with at least two boats in your group. Accidents can occur in seconds and emergency assistance can take many hours.
  • Engage a licensed guide or outfitter if you lack experience, proper equipment or river knowledge.


  • Prepare a float plan and leave it with friends or relatives. Be sure to inform them of your safe return.
  • Become familiar with the difficult parts of the trip. Remember that river difficulty ratings may change during high water.
  • Know your group's abilities. At least one person in your group should be trained in first aid and CPR. Practicing self-rescue techniques and escaping from an overturned craft can help ease tensions in the event of a situation on the river.
  • Pack your gear in watertight bags that can be securely fastened to your craft.
Capsizing, sinking, and falling overboard from small boats account for 70 percent of boating fatalities.SAFELY SHARING THE RIVER

When boating narrow river sections and rapids, all boats should keep as near to the outer limit of the channel or fairway, which lies to the boat’s starboard side, as is safe and practical, and always be courteous to other boaters. For example, motorized boats should exercise caution when near non-motorized boats, particularly in narrow river sections and in rapids, and reduce their speed when passing close. The wake of a motorized boat can easily swamp a canoe. In narrow river sections, non-motorized boats should keep well to the side to allow motor boats to maneuver through the deeper channel, giving them as much room as possible. 

Safe Boater  on the Gulkana River in Alaska

International Scale of River Difficulty
Class I: Moving water with a few riffles and small waves; few or no obstructions.

Class II: Easy rapids with waves up to three feet high; clear channels are obvious without scouting. Some maneuvering is required.

Class III: Rapids with high, irregular waves often capable of swamping an open canoe. Narrow passages may require complex maneuvering and scouting from shore.

Class IV: Long, difficult rapids with constricted passages that often require precise maneuvering in very turbulent waters. Scouting from shore is often necessary and conditions make rescue difficult. The is generally not possible for open canoes. Boaters in covered canoes and kayaks should be able to right an overturned craft using the "Eskimo roll" before attempting passage.

Class V: Extremely difficult, long and very violent rapids with high, congested routes, which almost always must be scouted from shore. Rescue conditions are difficult and there is a significant hazard to life in the event of a mishap. Ability to "Eskimo roll" is essential for kayakers.

Class VI: Difficulties of Class V carried to the extreme. Nearly impossible and very dangerous. For teams of experts only after close study and taking all precautions.


  • Be alert of approaching hazards such as boulders, jagged rocks, large holes or fallen trees.
  • Scout rapids before passing through.


  • Go around low overhanging trees called sweepers; never try to go under them.
  • Be alert for strainers, which are partially submerged objects such as trees that allow water to pass through. Go around strainers, never over them.


  • Keep your life jacket on to help reduce loss of body heat, which can result in hypothermia.
  • Place your feet downstream.
  • Swim head first over any sweepers or debris you encounter.
  • Keep your knees and arms together, to keep warm in chilly, Alaskan waters.
  • All boaters should abide by State and Coast Guard boating laws and adopt the best practices when on the water.

    Be sure you:
    Conduct a thorough pre departure check. Make sure the boat has all required and recommended safety equipment, including one USCG approved Type I, II, III or IV life jacket for each person on board, that is properly sized and fitted for the wearer. In Alaska, life jackets should be worn at all times when on the water.
  • Properly display your boat registration numbers and carry the registration certificate (motorized boats).
  • Refrain from consuming alcohol while boating.
  • Do not throw, discharge or deposit refuse matter of any kind (trash, oil and other liquid pollutants) into the water.  

Download Gear Checklists to be sure you have all necessary equipment for river travel.

For additional information and the International Navigation Rules contact the Alaska Office of Boating Safety at, and the U.S. Coast Guard at