Official State of Iowa Website Here is how you know

Safety Tips for Paddling in Cold Weather

Early spring paddling can provide solitude, exercise and an opportunity to see amazing wildlife, but extra precautions are needed to stay safe.

Review these simple safety tips before you head out on the water.

  • Don’t paddle alone; use a buddy system.
  • Always wear a life jacket.
  • Dress for the water temperature, not the air. When water temperatures drop below 60 degrees, the risk for hypothermia rises fast. 
  • Wear a dry suit or wet suit, along with layers, to help avoid hypothermia or cold water shock.
  • Know your river or lake conditions before you go paddling.
  • Bring along a dry bag with a set of extra clothes, a first-aid kit and a protected cell phone or weather radio. Get out of wet clothing as soon as possible.
  • Check your canoe or kayak for any needed repairs or maintenance after being stored for several months.
  • Let a friend or loved one know where you are going and when you are expected to return. It will be easier to find you if you need help.
  • Pack plenty of water to stay hydrated and fuel your body with snacks.

Paddling Instruction Opportunities

On-Line Paddle Safety Boating Course
Check out this free resource and improve your safety knowledge when it comes to paddling. This course is NASBLA (National Association of State Boating Law Administrators) approved. All new paddlers should take this free course and it is a great review for the experienced. Register for a free account and get started today.



2024 Iowa DNR Canoe and Kayak Schools
Learn to paddle more efficiently and develop new skills. Class schedules and registration information have been posted. Contact Todd Robertson with any questions.



YouTube Channel: ACA | Canoe - Kayak - Raft - SUP - Rescue

Wear It Iowa


State law requires life jackets on every watercraft, whether it’s a motorized boat, jet ski, kayak, canoe, or even a paddleboard. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 84 percent of drowning victims who died from a boating accident were not wearing their life jackets. The best way to be “saved by the jacket” is to wear it at all times, no matter your level of swimming or boating expertise.

For more information about safe boating practices visit the National Safe Boating Campaign.

The Boating Education program is committed to providing Iowans with important resources and messages that save lives.

Paddling Regulations - Know before you go

This official Iowa boater safety handbook introduces you to laws governing boating and provides general information about safe operation on Iowa waters. 

Meandered, Non-Meandered, and Navigable Rivers
These terms can be confusing, but are important in understanding what the rules are for where you can be and where you can't:

A Meandered river is one in which adjacent land owners own the land above the high water mark. Land below the high water mark is public, giving citizens the right to explore sandbars at leisure without worry of trespassing. Land above that level is usually private, and should not be utilized by people navigating streams except when portaging around an obstruction.

View a map of meandered rivers and legal boundaries of meandered rivers to learn more.

A non-meandered river, on the other hand, is one in which private landowners own all the land adjacent to and underneath the water-including the bottom, sandbars, and banks. Most river miles in Iowa are designated as non-meandered. A 1996 attorney general opinion, however, permits activities incidental to navigation on non-meandered rivers, such as, fishing, swimming, and wading when the river is considered navigable. This law also allows for trash clean-ups and the need to portage obstructions in the rivers.

A navigable river is defined by state law as one "which can support a vessel capable of carrying one or more persons during a total of a six-month period in one out of every ten years." Most rivers and larger creeks in Iowa, including non-meandered rivers, are considered navigable. State law expressly allows boating traffic down to one-person vessel such as kayaks on navigable streams. 

The required navigation lights must be displayed between sunset and sunrise and whenever the weather reduces visibility.

Manually Powered Vessels When Underway (Manually powered vessels are boats that are paddled, poled, or rowed)

If less than 23.0 feet long, these vessels should exhibit a white light visible for 360° around the horizon and visible from a distance of at least one mile away if operating on natural lakes, Corps of Engineers impoundments, border rivers, or impoundments on inland rivers. If this light is partially obscured due to the nature of the vessel, an additional white light must be on hand to be shown in sufficient time to prevent a collision. This secondary light could be a head-lamp or even a flashlight.

SUP is the fastest growing sport in the paddling community not only across the country, but especially right here in land-locked areas like Iowa. It's fun, healthy as a total body work-out and offers a unique perspective when it comes to being on the water. You can surf river waves, run whitewater, try SUP yoga, fish or just take your board out on the lake for a relaxing paddle. want to connect kids to nature and the outdoors? They will have a blast on a SUP. There are rules you will need to obey when on a SUP:

Stand up paddleboards are subject to the following requirements:

  • SUPs under 13 feet do not need to be registered
  • SUPs 13 feet and over need to be registered and the registration decal must be affixed to the bottom side of the bow or be in the possession of the paddler at all times when the SUP is on the water
  • Adults: A lifejacket must be either worn or on board the SUP
  • Kids 12 and under MUST have a properly fitted lifejacket on at all times while on a SUP board.
  • Obey local rules and regulations. Use only public lands and access points
  • Respect private property. Never trespass to gain access.
  • Be considerate to others while on the water. Give anglers a wide berth.
  • Be considerate to local residents.
  • Give back to the waterway. Participate in a river cleanup, or volunteer for a local watershed organization.
  • Avoid introducing non-native species. Clean your boat and gear between trips.
  • Dispose of waste properly. Never litter. Always pack out your trash. A good habit to develop is to always take a mesh trash bag so you can pick up around the access points. Always leave it cleaner than you found it.
  • Use a portable toilet or other approved method to pack out solid human waste and paper products. Dispose of liquid waste 200' from water and away from camps and trails.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces whenever possible. Minimize impacts to shore when launching, portaging and scouting.
  • Avoid building campfires, except in established fire rings or in emergencies.
  • Respect wildlife by observing from a safe distance. Leave artifacts and natural features undisturbed.

Paddle Safely

We want you to be safe on the water. A good first toward knowing what you need to know on the water in paddle craft is the American Canoe Associations "SmartStart" brochure.

To order paper copies for your group, please e-mail

SUP Safety: Leashes & Lifejackets

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Paddling Safety Tips

  1. Wear a properly-fitted lifejacket while on the water. Never paddle under the influence of alcohol.
  2. Paddle with a group, not by yourself. Leave a "float plan" for your trip with a friend or relative.
  3. Dress appropriately for weather and water conditions, including air and water temperature. Avoid conditions for which you are not prepared.
  4. Learn about and study your route in advance, especially hazards that are beyond your skill level.
  5. Carry a supply of food and drinking water adequate for your trips length.
  6. Be able to read the water and effectively steer and propel your boat. Learn how to rescue yourself and others in the event of a capsize.
  7. Do not stand up in your boat, and avoid weight shifts that may cause capsize. Do not carry more weight or persons than your boat is designed to safely accommodate.
  8. Know where the dams are!
  9. Know and understand your river levels and flows, as well as the weather forecast. Remember, rain that has fallen upstream will be coming downstream!
  10. Watch out for newer paddlers. Offer advice, be supportive, share your knowledge and make them feel welcome.