1. Awareness of river conditions - Research is required before entering a river. Most Western countries have a canoe guide, i.e. Whitewater NZ is available in most NZ libraries. Similar guides are available in other countries or states.
2. Awareness of river hazards - do you know where the difficult rapids are? Do you know the latest warnings? Has the river been in flood, perhaps presenting new risks after boulders or logs have moved? If you are unsure of how rivers work, you are less likely to anticipate risks.
3. Awareness of how river hazards or risk vulnerability can change - The river is a dynamic system; it is always changing. The changes can be gradual (as under normal water flow) or rapid (as in cases of flood), so if you are considering canoeing after a long time or after flood, you should consult local canoe groups, or scout rapids for risks.
4. Preparedness for conditions - Has there been a river flood lately? Do you know the river height, and how changes in river height impact the river.
5. Support in case of mishap - good if you have a cell phone or ready access to a road
Please read the following accident report to acquaint yourself with some of the risks of canoeing. On a positive note, some of the benefits of inflatables are:
1. A non-fixed canoe means there is more leeway for a person to escape if you are trapped between a canoe and a hard place, as an inflatable is less likely to deflate quickly
2. A non-fixed canoe is light so you are less likely to fall over and injury yourself, i.e. If you are portaging around a rapid or to/from the river.
3. A non-fixed canoe is far more comfortable to sit in because it is an air cushion offering you a greater range of seating or lying positions.
On the negative side:
1. Inflatables need to be pumped up - this can be exhausting if you are in a hurry or unfit. On one occasion my hand pump was wet, so it was very difficult to pump. There was resistance in the up and down stroke which made pumping tiresome. So avoid getting your hand pump wet. The other option is to use a foot pump or a car based unit.
2. Inflatables exposure your butt to the 'hardness' of rocks. If there is a very sharp protruding object like glass, street wire (protruding from concrete foundations perhaps), you are more exposed. I have hit rocks with enough force to feel a rock. In the canoe you have two layers of defence - the air chambers in the base of the canoe, and the air chambers of the air seat cushion. I have felt rocks barely though these layers of cushioning, so ensure you have adequate air pressure. I carry a pump on the river and pump up the canoe if I am waiting for others. It takes no time at all.
Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com