“On the Water” Safety and Ethics

Rivers are ever-changing dynamic systems with inherent dangers. Here are some safety tips and river ethics to help you enjoy your time on the water.

State and federal laws require operators of paddlecraft to have:

  • a personal flotation device for each person aboard the vessel (ask for a a USCG-approved Type III-V PFD)
  • an efficient sound-signalling device — an approved whistle would suffice
  • a white light source visible from 360 degrees if paddling in reduced visibility or from sunset to sunrise.

Recommended Safety Tips

  • never paddle alone,
  • always file a "float plan": tell someone where you are going and when you are expected to return,
  • check weather forecasts,
  • carry a map of the stream or chart of the bay so you can find your location at any time,
  • carry a cell phone or a handheld VHF radio in coastal areas
  • carry a hand-held Global Positioning System unit; it will help you determine where you are and how to get back to a launch site and — in the event of an emergency — allow you to pinpoint your position for rescuers
  • wear protective footgear and carry drinking water, sunscreen and insect repellent
  • plan your trip so that your paddling skills are equal to the water conditions.

More tips on river safety are available on the Texas River Guide.


Get to know your local stream by learning about its watershed, riparian zone, and its native vegetation. Conserving riparian areas is important as these areas filter pollutants and protect against flooding and erosion. When paddling, be sure to take a bag to hold your trash for proper disposal when you leave the river. Visit Leave No Trace (www.lnt.org) for more information. Share the water; when approaching anglers or other paddlers, give them a wide berth and proceed quietly so as not to interfere with their recreation.

Hunter Alert

Riparian areas enjoyed by paddlers are also popular with hunters at certain times of year. Most riverfront property is privately owned, and hunters may be nearby. If you're planning a float during hunting season (check dates here), be aware of your surroundings. Look for deer blinds and bird blinds. Wear bright colors, and when approaching a likely hunting area, make your presence known.

Motorized Boat Advisory

Texas Paddling Trails are shared waterways which means powerboats may be present, and it is important to be mindful of all vessel traffic and take the necessary steps to stay safe during your paddling experience. This may include not stopping in high trafficked areas of the waterway, incorporating safety equipment such as flags to denote one’s presence, and staying in shallow areas or outside the main channel where powerboaters don’t often run.