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Paddle Pointers

We want you to have summer fun on our lakes and streams—and stay safe while doing it. Check out these 13 things to consider before climbing into your kayak, raft or canoe.

Paddling is a great family activity, and the Tennessee Valley’s lakes, rivers and streams provide a variety of opportunities for you and yours to get out on the water to enjoy some summer fun.

Your safety is important to TVA. Remember that more than a million people will use TVA recreation areas this summer. That means our waterways across the Valley are very busy, and extra caution is needed. Follow these tips to help keep your family’s next paddle trip safe:

  1. Know Your Limits—Paddle water that is appropriate to your skill. Not sure about where to find it? Talk to your local outfitter about good places to paddle for every skill level—especially if you're a first-timer.
  2. Keep an Eye on the Weather—Summer storms can spring up quickly in the south bringing lighting, high winds and choppy water. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the odds of a person being struck by lightning in their lifetime is 1 out of 12,000. Why take a chance? Get out of the water whenever you hear thunder, no matter how distant.
  3. Follow the LawView federal laws and equipment carriage requirements for recreational vessels of the United States.
  4. Bring Flotation—Always wear a lifejacket or a personal floatation device. Children under 12 years of age must wear a lifejacket.* 
  5. Wear a Helmet—If you fall in, a helmet can protect your head from hard or sharp objects that may be lurking below the surface.
  6. Watch for River Hazards—Watch for fallen tree limbs, barbed wire, bridge piers and other hazards that can snare or entangle you.
  7. Be Visible...and Audible—Keep alert to other boaters. If you believe another boater has not seen you, blow your whistle* and wave your paddle to alert the other boater. A flashlight* is required if you plan to paddle after sunset.
  8. Dress for Success—Wear clothing sufficient to prevent hypothermia and/or sunburn.
  9. Wear Sunscreen—The CDC recommends applying sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15 to help prevent sunburn and skin damage.
  10. Don’t Paddle Alone—Paddling is an activity that is always better with friends and family.
  11. Never Drink and Paddle*—Alcohol impairs coordination and judgment.
  12. Take Paddle Boarding Seriously—Sure, paddle boards look different, but the U.S. Coast Guard classifies them as a recreational vessel that is less than 16 feet when used outside of surfing, swimming and bathing areas. In other words, paddle boards should be considered as boats.
  13. Obey All Posted Safety Regulations and Warnings.

*U.S. Coast Guard Requirement


It’s always a good time for fun on the Tennessee Valley’s lands and waters. Not sure where to start? We have you covered! Check out some of the best recreational activities on our reservoirs. While you’re enjoying the lakes, trails, picnic areas and campgrounds, share your own stories and photos on Instagram using #TVAfun.

River Neighbors Newsletter

Get the all the latest news and inside information about recreation on TVA public lands and lakes.

Keeping Water Quality High

Valley waterways provide multiple uses, including water supply, navigation, power production and recreation. That’s why TVA does all that it can to maintain the highest water quality—including monitoring the lakes and rivers, boosting oxygen in tailwater and more. Click here for more about TVA and water quality.