Useful River Signals

Most kayakers that I have paddled with tend to use similar signals for the basic instructions needed on the river:

  • Stop
  • All go
  • One go
  • Eddy out
  • Go left/right

These could be considered the minimum and most groups that paddle together a lot will supplement them with their own signals for “come to me,” “scout,” “walk” and “OK?”

The rafting world seems to have an entire language of hand signals, to the extent that it’s possible to have whole conversations using them. These include everything from “slow down” to “I need a helicopter.” They’re not generally known amongst kayakers though. Here’s two that I use a lot at work and have found handy when out kayaking.



I think this one is fairly obvious – it looks like the action of someone throwing a line. It’s really useful for when setting up safety on a rapid, or dealing with incidents. I’ve used it to say “throw me a bag” – to clip a pinned boat for example, or indicating that you want someone to set up protection on a rapid in a certain place.


coverThis one can be used to say “you cover me” or “I’ll cover you.” Basically, “pay attention, this could get interesting…” I’ve used this at work when my rafting clients have asked for me to flip the boat on purpose. A quick “cover” signal to the other guides lets them know that they can expect swimmers. In the kayaking world, this gives you another signal to help yourself be better understood. With other signals it’s now possible to say “You eddy out river left and cover me with a throwbag” to quickly set up safety without having to paddle over and explain yourself. Or “you cover there” if you’re sending a chaseboater to the bottom of a rapid.

The whole point of using signals is so that we can communicate messages easily at a distance. They should be kept as simple as possible, to save time, rather than cause confusion. I find the two examples here are quite intuitive and easy to use with people that I boat with a lot. Obviously though, any signal only works if the whole group knows it. So keep it simple.

Pictures taken from the IRF hand signals guide, which you can find here.

This entry was posted in Canoeing, Kayaking, Rafting. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Useful River Signals

  1. Pingback: River Leadership: Communication | iboutdoor

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