When you’re paddling with a larger group, it’s important to have a pre-determined signaling system to communicate if you get separated.
If you’re within visual range, there are some universal river signals you can employ. In each of these, make sure that the paddle face is turned perpendicular to the person you’re signaling so that it’s easier to see. If you’re not in range, you’ll want to use whistle signals.
You can also employ your own custom signaling system—just make sure everyone is clear on what signals you’re using prior to launching.
“Are you ok?” & “I’m ok.”
This signal is both a question and a response. It is primarily asked when someone has encountered trouble, such as capsizing or getting stuck in debris.
While holding your elbow out to the side, repeatedly pat the top of your head. You can also point at the person you’re asking with the other hand.
If someone signals the question to you, immediately signal the same response back. This indicates that you are, indeed, ok—any other response, or lack thereof, indicates otherwise.
Help immediately, or emergency
Three long blasts on your whistle while waving your hands or your paddle blade back and forth above your head.
Stop/stay where you are, or potential hazard ahead
Hold your paddle horizontally above your head and pump it up and down. Make sure the blade face is facing those you are signaling so it’s easier to see. If you don’t have your paddle, you can also signal this by extending your arms out to the side like wings and making a short flapping motion. Group members should “pass” this message to paddlers behind them.
You can also signal this using two loud whistle blasts.
All-clear, or come ahead
Hold your paddle vertically above your head, keeping it stationary with the paddle face towards your target. Or, alternatively, hold your arm vertically above your head with your palm facing out.
This can also mean to proceed straight ahead, through the center of the rapid.
Come here, or gather around the person holding the paddle
Extend the paddle vertically over your head, and pump the paddle up and down repeatedly. If you don’t have a paddle, make a similar motion with your arm extending vertically above your head.
Attention, or wait for further signals/instructions
One loud whistle blast is intended to gain someone’s attention so you can signal additional instructions to them.
Similar to the all-clear paddle signal above, but hold your paddle at a 45-degree angle towards river left. Always point to the direction others should proceed—the clear and safe path. Do not point to towards the obstruction.
Similar to “stay left,” but hold your paddle at a 45-degree angle towards river right. Always point to the direction others should proceed—the clear and safe path. Do not point to towards the obstruction.
To instruct others to break out in the eddy ahead, hold the paddle vertically above your head and circle it in the air as though you were drawing a halo. If there is more than one eddy available, point to the one you want people to go to, or use the” stay left” or “stay right” signal after the eddy out signal.