Canoe Safety

Canoeing the Missouri River is usually easier and safer than most people think. But there are still serious hazards to consider. On the Big Muddy, a few mistakes can turn a peaceful float into a very wet and dangerous situation. It’s a wide river and the current is deceptively swift and strong.

One of the most important things you can do to keep yourself safe on the Missouri River is WEAR YOUR LIFE JACKET! Not even the most experienced of swimmers can fight the river. 

For some cleanups, we use canoes to gather trash and shuttle it to a flagged location where our trash boats can get it. Don’t overload your canoes or you’re at risk for tipping. We want trash in canoes as little as possible. Just pile the trash at one of our flagged spots and leave it there!

Specific hazards to look out for on the Missouri River:

Wing Dikes

These are the rock structures that jut out into the current. The purpose of these structures are to help guide the river to make a more predictable river. Depending on the river level, they can either be fully exposed, safely underwater or dangerously just below surface.

If are attempting to land on an exposed wing dike, it is easier and safer to approach it from downstream. You paddle around the dike then behind it. You can usually catch an eddy current to help you back upstream to land on the exposed dike structure.


Navigation buoys are Styrofoam-filled metal pieces that are placed by the US Army Corps of Engineers to help indicate shallow parts of the river that are close to the channel. They are not always reliable and oftentimes get moved by the river.

Give navigation buoys plenty of room. They are known to bounce around. The wave they create can tip an unbalanced canoe. The river is also capable of pulling the bobbing buoys under the water for a short period of time- be sure to watch out for those sneaky buoys!


If a barge does come along, it’s best to get out of the main channel. This is where the barges will most typically be and where the waves will be strongest. Make sure to point your bow into the wake it leaves behind. The worst place to be is between a barge and shore where the waves can push you against the rocks. The best place to be is behind a wing dike and out of your canoe. Barge wakes are tricky to navigate and can last for up to a few miles past the time you ran into a barge. 


Both boats and barges oftentimes stay in the deepest part of the channel, so be sure to anticipate their route and make plans to get out of their way. Make sure you are visible to boats. Turning sideways to the current makes a bigger display. 


The current is deceptively strong on the Missouri. It can catch you off-guard and make a tippy canoe into a tipped-over canoe pretty quickly. Keep your center of gravity low and weight balanced evenly across the canoe. 


If your canoe is perpendicular to the current and you get caught by a strong crosswind, the canoe will tip easier. Be sure to check your weather resources for wind strength and directions to make better judgements for your day on the river! 

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