New Rules of the River: Paddle Wise Responsibility Code

3 Min. Read
River Runners Responsibility Code

Hitting the water this summer? Be responsible on the river.

That’s the message being driven home by American Whitewater and NRS, which together recently joined forces to release a new responsibility code for river runners called Paddle Wise (#paddlewise).

The initiative outlines the do’s and don’ts for people who head out paddling, with the dual goals of safety and preservation.

“From a safety perspective, the Paddle Wise initiative is an attempt to address the increasing number of accidents we’ve seen in Class I and II situations as more new participants take to rivers,” says Mark Singleton, executive director of American Whitewater. “Paddlesports have been a great way to get outside in nature during the pandemic, but sadly not every new participant is exposed to basic awareness and safety concepts.”

Paddle Wise Responsibility Code for Paddlers

Paddle Wise also underscores the need for paddlers to protect the places they recreate in, limit their impact, and promote a positive image of the sport. Many newcomers to the sport, adds Singleton, are unfamiliar with the ethics practiced by more experienced river users, with increased participation from the pandemic putting greater pressure on public lands and waters. Targeting both the industry and individual paddlers, the initiative stresses the need for paddlers to be proactive about teaching the importance of keeping rivers clean, healthy and accessible.

“It encourages paddlers to share river responsibly, paddle safety and practice responsible river use wherever river users congregate,” says spokesperson Liz Rovira. “It was created so there was a responsibility code for river runners to be their best selves on the water and help protect, restore and maintain access to rivers.”

Below are the seven tenets of #paddlewise developed by American Whitewater and NRS, including key tips and pointers to keep in mind the next time you hit the river:

7 Tenets of the Responsibility Code for Paddlers

Flip drill practice: OARS whitewater guide school
1) Paddle Smart
  • Paddle within your ability
  • Keep your skills sharp
  • Communicate with your team on the river
  • Think for yourself
  • Don’t let bad decisions compound
  • Go big, but come home safe
2) Paddle Prepared
  • Plan ahead
  • Consult existing beta
  • Understand International Scale of River Difficulty and your chosen river’s rating
  • Carry proper equipment including medical kit, spare paddle and emergency food/layers
3) Paddle Inclusive
  • Share it
  • Everyone with the proper skillset is welcome
  • Find a mentor
  • Be a mentor
  • Acknowledge indigenous stewardship and land
  • Be a positive part of the community
New Rules of the River: #PADDLEWISE Responsibility Code for Paddlers
4) Paddle Safe
5) Paddle No Trace
  • Leave no trace
  • Always be a river steward
  • Use existing access areas, trails and campsites
  • Pack it in
  • Pack it out
  • Use restroom facilities or bring your own waste disposal
  • Be aware of and remove micro-trash
6) Paddle Aware
  • Check weather and flow conditions
  • Check for closures and river regulations
  • Know your ability and your group’s ability
  • Understand surrounding landscape and escape routes
  • Research existing hazards, portages and critical features
Cultural artifacts on the San Juan River
7) Paddle Respectful
  • Consider impacts to gateway communities
  • Consider impacts on other paddlers
  • Drive slowly
  • Park in designated areas
  • Respect closures
  • Be friendly and represent the whitewater community positively
  • Appreciate cultural resources but leave undisturbed

Paddlers are encouraged to share the stoke of responsible river running by using the hashtag #paddlewise on social media, spreading these values at put-ins and take-outs, and sharing them with river-related businesses and organizations.

“Think of Paddle Wise as a trip talk for the digital age,” says Singleton. “It’s meant to be shared via social media in the hope that river runners can be welcoming and proactive in reducing paddling-related incidents and preserving the waterways we all love and enjoy.”

Photos: Paddling the Snake River through Hells Canyon – James Kaiser, #paddlewise graphic –; Flip drills during OARS whitewater guide school – Jess Wallstrom; Rogue River kayaker – Adam Edwards; Cultural artifacts on the San Juan – Andrew Miller

Eugene Buchanan

A member of New York’s Explorer’s Club, Eugene Buchanan has written about the outdoors for more than 20 years, from working the Beijing Olympics for NBC to writing for

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