You’ll find weirs on many rivers up and down the country, but what are they? And why do you need to know about them? Welcome to our beginners guide to weirs and weir safety.
Well, whilst they can be really exciting to shoot (paddle down), they can also be powerful and dangerous, even fatal, and it’s about being aware of river features so you can best navigate them based on your own skill, experience and depending on the weather too.
Weirs are man-made dam-like features on a river. They are a way of controlling and monitoring the flow of a river. This means they can help control the river level (how high or low it is), and how fast the water is flowing after (downstream of/after) the dam. They’re pretty common, so you’ll no doubt have seen one before without necessarily knowing that’s what it is!
Right. So why do I need to know about these weirs?
So you know what a weir looks like and what it does. Now it’s time to look at the reasons why it’s important to know what weirs are.
No matter how experienced you are with paddling, every time you approach a weir should be treated as a new experience. Why? Because our environments change on a daily, if not hourly basis, and what was once a brilliant adrenaline rush might not always be the case. So, you need to deploy your best decision-making skills when it comes to approaching and potentially shooting weirs.
Weirs can look harmless and even fun if you’re after a thrill. However, there are so many technicalities to take into consideration and you need to ensure you’re familiar with how weirs work. Not sure how to shoot a weir? Make sure your first time is with a qualified coach or leader – perhaps join a local club or social group with experienced members. You can use our useful delivery centre provider tool to find local white water providers!
Beginners guide to weirs… What to be aware of:
- Do your research. Have look through paddlepoints to see whether the river you are planning to paddle has any weirs. You can also check where they are and whether they can be easily walked around. If the river has a weir it is important to understand what to look out for before making the decision to paddle over it. Luckily, the British Canoeing Awarding Body digital library has a range of resources to support your decision making when using weirs. There is also a FREE interactive webinar ‘Including the buzz of weirs in your leadership’ aimed at paddlers, clubs, leaders to support your use of weirs. Click here to access weir resources.
- Notice any warning signs before approaching a weir and take note of the safety information they share. These will likely be just before the weir, either on the bank or partly in the water. Take note of the advice on the sign, as each weir will have different features.
- Be cautious and avoid getting close to the weir, as you may not be able to paddle back up river, get out early and take a look on foot.
- Be familiar with both current and ‘normal’ river levels for the river you’re paddling on to inform your decision making. Too high? Too low? Use this information to inform your decision on what you do next – portage or shoot.
- The weir structure can mean there are strong currents and deep water areas which you can’t see from above the water. The structure might also have hidden objects below the water to be aware of. Always consider this.
- The weir slope itself can be slippy and the surface will be hard given the materials they’re made out of. You don’t want to be walking on the surface.
- Whilst the weir might look friendly, the circulation currents of the water at the downstream point of the weir can mean that kit, or even people, find it difficult to get out of that circular current motion. It can be a bit like getting stuck in a washing machine. Be acutely aware of your plan for shooting if you are going to shoot the weir.
- If in doubt, get out. There’s always an option to change your path or get out and portage. Don’t let the ego get in the way of making a sound decision!
Other things to note:
- Are you on a SUP? Your SUP has a fin on the bottom of it, which won’t take kindly to shooting a weir, especially if there are rocks or cement below. You’re probably best to portage on a SUP for this very reason. The last thing you want to do on a weir is fall in.
- Is the weir in good working order? If there is visible damage to the weir? A fallen tree or stones/concrete missing? Don’t risk it. This can affect the flow of the water and cause it to act in unpredictable ways.
- If all seems ok, you’re confident in knowing how to shoot the weir correctly. You’re familiar with how weirs work, and have experience in shooting them, then you’re in a position to make a sound judgement as to whether you can shoot the weir or not. Don’t skip this part and make sure your decisions are based on experience, skill and conditions.
Remember, experience is great, but you also need to treat every trip out as a brand new trip and don’t take information for granted. Think about the weather, the river levels, the experience of yourself and the group you’re with, safety kit and the type of weir you’re faced with before making your decision.
Unfortunately, there are avoidable accidents every year. A little knowledge goes a long way. Keep yourself safe and enjoy your paddling. If in doubt, get out. Did you find our beginners guide to weirs and weir safety useful? Don’t forget to hit share on social media!