Paddler’s Guide

Welcome to the Missouri River 340, a race across the state of Missouri. We’re glad you’ve chosen to participate. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. And for that reason, it will be hugely satisfying and memorable. What follows is a guide of sorts to help your race be successful and safe.

The Missouri River

Moving water has inherent danger. This is mainly because there are objects in the water that are stationary, and putting yourself between moving water and a stationary object is ill-advised. So, if you can manage not to hit anything on the way to St. Charles, you should be fine. Things to avoid in the Missouri River are navigation buoys, wing dikes, parked barges and bridge pilings.

Navigation Buoys:

These come in two varieties. Red nun buoys and green can buoys. They are placed by the US Coast Guard to mark shallow spots in the river. These are big, heavy steel objects anchored by cable to huge concrete blocks on the riverbed. They sometimes move back and forth erratically. Give these buoys a wide berth. Under no circumstances should you tie off to one as they can sometimes be forced completely underwater by the current.

They are easily spotted at night by the reflective material affixed to the top.

nun buoy
Nun buoy

can buoy
Can buoy with log pinned against it.

Going downstream, you will keep the green buoys on your right and red buoys on your left. It is not required that you stay in the marked navigation channel. There is plenty of water for you outside the channel. Sometimes you can cut distance on a curve by leaving the channel and taking a more direct path. However, you might find the water slower. This keeps things interesting, strategically speaking.

Wing dikes:

These are rock structures built into the river by the US Army Corps of Engineers. They force the water away from the banks, narrowing the channel and speeding up the river. They are almost always found on the opposite side of the navigation channel. The water directly downstream of a wing dike is calm and is often a place where sandbars build up. These can be a good place to catch a nap or answer nature’s call. Also, behind a wing dike is a good safe spot to go if a towboat creates a rough wake. The water behind the dike will remain calm and safe.

However, you will want to be careful to avoid hitting a wing dike while going downstream. The current pushing against it can pin your boat and capsize it. It is not difficult to avoid a wing dike. At night or in foggy conditions, take extra precautions.

wing dike missouri riverPhoto of Wing Dike by Norm Miller

Parked barges:

A moored barge is dangerous for obvious reasons. The water continues to pass under the raked front end and a boat pinned under the front will be pulled under. Barges are parked or moored at riverbanks and should be given a wide berth. Sand dredges are sometimes moored in mid channel for the purpose of harvesting sand from the river bottom. These are serviced by tows pushing barges and carrying sand from the dredge to the bank up or downstream. We will pass 4 or 5 of these dredge operations on our way to St. Charles. The dredges are sometimes anchored to cables in the water. Avoid the dredges, avoid their cables and watch for the sand barges moving up and down in the area.

Bridge Pilings:

Again, this is just common sense. There is strong current going around the bridge pilings. Stay clear. The pilings are marked at night by red lights. A green light will often mark the clear channel for passage between pilings.

River Traffic:

Most of the traffic you will see on the river is recreational. And most of this traffic will be fishermen. Watch out for their wakes. Keep your bow pointed into the oncoming wave and make sure your gear is secured and boat balanced. At night, be sure to have the required white navigation light clearly displayed. If you see a boat approaching at night, it wouldn’t hurt to get the flashlights out and make sure they can see you. Also, you can use a whistle or an air horn to signal.

Tows and barges are also out on the river. The numbers are small, but a tow pushing barges will get your attention in a small boat. Please remember that a tow can be coming from upstream as well, so listen and check behind you from time to time. The tows use the navigation channel which is only about a third of the width of the river. There is plenty of room for everyone. When you see one coming, make a course for the non-channel side. Then, start to assess the size of his wake. A heavily laden barge being pushed upstream makes the biggest disturbance while a light barge going downstream makes almost no wake. Be prepared for the worst by moving off channel and looking for options in case of a large wake. Wing dikes can be excellent hiding places if the water gets too rough.

At night, tows and barges are easily visible as they scan the river with spotlights. In fact, at night you will have more warning of their approach because of these lights. Take care and steer clear.

missouri river towboat and barge
A barge pushed upstream creates a larger wake.

Heat and Sun:

July is hot in Missouri. And paddling is hard work. Please be aware of your body and the messages it is sending you. Remember that with every drop of sweat and every exhale of breath you are steadily losing fluids. You need to be ahead of the curve replacing fluids so that your body can effectively cool itself. Be sure that you are carrying enough water to get you to your next town or source. If you feel you are overheating, beach your boat and take a swim. Also, be sure to use sunscreen to avoid burns which further reduce your body’s ability to cool you.

Required Gear:

Missouri River map
Life vest for each paddler
Cell phone, extra batteries.
Extra paddle
Line or rope suitable for towing.
Knife
First aid kit
Matches
Emergency blanket (reflective Mylar)
12 hours worth of water.
For night travel: Full red/green/white navigation lights as required by Coast Guard.
Strong flashlight or spotlight.

Recommendations to racers: (not required)

Marine radio (handheld)
Ground crew to follow racer for re-supply or emergency
Tent or shelter (storms)
Toilet kit
Bed roll
Food (high calorie and protein)
Sun block
Hat
Sun glasses
Good footwear
GPS
Duct tape