Skip to content Skip to footer

What Is a Strainer On a River And Why Is It Dangerous?

While boating/kayaking is a fun and exciting sport, it’s not without dangers. This means every paddler must take safety precautions at all times. And this includes knowing what to expect on the water.

If you paddle on rivers, then a ‘strainer’ is something you may encounter. This article is about preparing you for when you encounter strainers to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable time on the water.

What Is a River Strainer?

A strainer is created on a river when there are obstructions, which could be natural or man-made, on the river. Natural obstructions include trees, branches, and root systems while artificial obstructions may be fencing, guard rails, or submerged vehicles/boats.

Picture strainers as a literal kitchen strainer used to drain spaghetti or vegetables except you are the spaghetti and vegetables in this case.

These obstructions allow water to pass through (usually through the small gap(s) in the barrier). However, boats and people are held back. In the case of branches, the branches will act like a sieve preventing paddlers and their boats from passing through.

What Is The Danger Of a Strainer?

The problem with strainers is that the obstructions causing them are too small for you and your boat to pass through. Water can still pass through the barrier through via the small gaps.

So any boat that comes in contact with a strainer will be effectively trapped. No way forward. And this is where the real danger of strainer lies as boats and kayaks can easily flip over and pin the paddler underwater as he/she tries to wiggle free from the obstruction. And if Lady Luck isn’t on the side of a paddler pinned underwater, you know what the outcome will be.

What To Do When You Encounter Strainers?

It’s best you don’t encounter strainers. Try to scout ahead whenever possible especially if you are paddling on a river you are not familiar with. Doing this allows you to identify potential instructions and plan ahead to avoid them. You can also talk to locals and ensure you have a paddling partner. Paddling with someone else means you can be rescued by throw bags or ropes.

Remember that your life jacket will be completely useless if your boat flips over and you are pinned underwater so a strainer isn’t something to take lightly.

But should you encounter strainers when paddling, don’t panic. And never ever attempt to go through a strainer. It’s futile! Paddle light around the strainer and give it as much room as possible. The goal is to ensure you aren’t caught in the strainer or your boat flipping over.

And if you find yourself being forced into a strainer that cannot be avoided, swim aggressively toward it and get on top of it, or go over the top to safety on the other side.

Tips To Stay Safe On The Water

Our motto at Exploration Junkie is safety first! And it is in light of this that I’d like to remind you of basic kayaking/boating safety tips.

  • Always wear a PFD: You have no business being on the water without a PFD. Ensure your PFD fits well and never take it off when on the water.
  • Research about potential hazards in your kayaking/boating location. While the internet is a wonderful source of information, you should also consider having a chat with a local paddler about spots to avoid like a low-head dam.
  • Have a whistle with you at all times. In case of emergency, you’ll need three long blasts to signal nearby paddlers.
  • There is safety in numbers. Have a paddling partner and stay close to your paddling partner.
  • Don’t use spray skirts until you’ve practiced how to properly remove them and do a wet exit.

Last Thoughts

It’s easy to underestimate the dangers of what you find on a river when paddling. A few rocks or branches in the water don’t always look like much or are not even always very visible. Hopefully, after reading this article you will be more aware of what strainers are and how dangerous they are. Make sure you stay away from them!

Leave a Comment