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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Outdoor Recreation > Trails > Indiana Canoeing > Trip Planning Trip Planning

This site is devoted to outlining the basic steps to making a canoe trip. While it may not be feasible to do everything suggested, each suggestion will make its contribution toward assuring a safe and enjoyable trip. These suggestions are appropriate to either large or small groups.

The first decision required is the choice of stream to canoe. To facilitate this decision all pertinent information should be gathered. Guide books, comments from local canoe clubs, topographic maps, highway maps and visual observation can all be beneficial. If acquaintances have paddled the stream, be sure to inquire about their experience. Indiana's streams can become quite dangerous in high flow and they can also be quite unpleasant when there is too little water. Stream flow data can be checked online at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/in/nwis/rt. Choice of stream will depend upon the ability of the paddlers, water conditions, scenic or historic attraction and many other factors.

The second decision is how far to go. This is determined by how much time is available. If it is a one-day trip, 6-10 miles is appropriate for the beginning canoeist. Remember that ten miles in the spring, when the water is moving, may be easier than six miles late in the summer when the water is low. The length of the trip will usually be determined by available access points for the particular stream.

Put-ins, take-outs and shuttles are the next planning items to be considered. A map of the area will be essential at this point. Find out where there is sufficient space to park the required cars, and you should consider visiting the sites to visually inspect them to avoid potential problems the day of your trip. A shuttle is then set up with one or more cars left at each end of the trip. As take-out points may be located in isolated areas, an extra car is definitely needed. Hitch-hiking back to the start should be avoided. To facilitate the shuttle, maps should be made for each driver who is involved. As back roads are frequently used, the use of maps minimizes the likelihood of someone getting lost.

Maps can be a great aid and can be distributed to each paddler to insure that everyone gets to the meeting place, to the put-in and to the take-out. They should be waterproofed or placed in waterproof containers. Maps can prove to be life savers by showing the best way to walk out in an emergency or where emergency aid can be located. Rapids, hazards or other points of interest can also be marked on the maps. U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps may be purchased from:

Map Sales
402 W. Washington, Room 160
Indianapolis, IN 46204
317-232-4200

Safety is the most important aspect of planning a trip. No one has a good time when someone is injured. The trip leader should plan for emergencies, know where the stream is in relation to towns, telephones and medical assistance, and be familiar with the stream and its hazards.

On the day of the trip, the group leader or one of the canoeists should check the stream level, check the local weather report and discuss safety techniques and potential hazards with all canoeists. Canoeing safety techniques are simple, but quite important. Among these precautions are:

  1. Never canoe alone and try to have more than one canoe on any trip;
  2. Stay off the stream in flood stage-flooding streams are unpredictable and dangerous, even for the expert canoeist;
  3. Wear your life jacket (preferably a vest type);
  4. Dress according to the weather and water conditions;
  5. Always carry a complete change of clothing in waterproof containers (hypothermia can be a danger in all seasons);
  6. Know the stream-potential hazards, portage sites, dams and other features;
  7. Be familiar with local roads, telephones and medical assistance;
  8. Know how to handle an upset, and be familiar with rescue procedures;
  9. Always remain upstream of an overturned canoe;
  10. Anticipate potential hazards, and scout ahead for dangerous river stretches;
  11. Respect the advice of your group leaders and experienced canoeists, and please heed these safety tips!

The last part of planning a trip is to have the correct equipment. The type of equipment will, in part, be determined by the nature of the trip, the weather and the water temperature. A wide variety of canoe equipment is available to the prospective purchaser. Canoes range from fourteen to nineteen feet long, with seventeen feet being a standard length. The longer canoes offer stability, speed and the ability to hold additional gear and passengers, while the shorter canoes are generally more maneuverable, lighter, and provide ease of moving and storage. Canvas-covered wood, wood-strip or birch-bark canoes are generally used for lakes and calm water canoeing. Canoes made of aluminum, fiberglass or synthetic material offer strength, without additional weight, low maintenance and increased choice of styles and colors.

Whitewater canoes should be constructed of impact resistant aluminum or synthetic material (fiberglass, kevlar, or plastic), be without a keel and have additional ribs for support. For treacherous whitewater, the decked-canoe or kayak is recommended. These light weight boats are constructed of fiberglass or other synthetic materials and are enclosed except for a canoeists' cockpit. Once the canoeist is in place, a "spray skirt" is placed around the canoeist's waist and tightened around the lip of the cockpit. This provides an essentially watertight craft. In an "Eskimo Roll" the experienced canoeist can totally turn the kayak over, submerge, turn upright and continue paddling. Because of the light weight, the decked-canoes or kayaks are extremely maneuverable, but take an experienced canoeist to handle. Training and practice are necessary for their safe usage. Decked-canoes or kayaks are not recommended for inexperienced paddlers.

Open-water canoes, which will also be used for white-water canoeing, should be aluminum or synthetic material and have a slight keel for stability. They could also be broader and have fewer ribs for support. In a windy stretch of river or lake and for general ease of guiding, a keel is a definite advantage. The broader canoe is slower, but more stable and able to carry a greater load. The choice of canoe should be decided by the type of water to be canoed, use, length of trips, number of canoeists per boat, costs, maintenance and personal preference.

Canoe paddles are available in a variety of styles and materials. Laminated spruce, ash or similar hardwoods provide the necessary strength for paddles, while fiberglass, aluminum or synthetic paddles provide durability. An eight-inch wide blade is customary, and paddle length in generally chin-high or shorter. A good lightweight, comfortable paddle, whether it be wood or synthetic, is a desirable piece of canoe equipment.

It is suggested that anyone interested in purchasing canoe equipment conduct extensive research before doing so. A number of informative books and magazines are available on all aspects of canoeing.

Equipment checklist

  • Canoe-one per 2-3 persons
  • U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable lifejackets-one per person
  • Paddles-one per person, plus one spare per canoe
  • Waterproof floating dry bags containing:
    • a complete change of clothes for each canoeist
    • a rain suit for each canoeist
    • blankets or sleeping bag (in cold weather)
    • towels, maps, cameras, valuables
  • First aid kit-one carried in sweep (last) canoe
  • Rope-25-50 feet Bailing pail or sponge
  • Emergency fire starters (waterproof matches)
  • Plastic garbage bag
  • Knife
  • Food and water as required

For extended canoe trip

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bags and pads
  • Portable camp stove
  • Eating utensils
  • Toiletries
  • Food and water as required

All equipment should be secured to the canoe. However, under no circumstances should paddles, life-jackets or people be tied to the canoe. No loose rope should be left to entangle someone's feet.