Reading the River, Part 1: Avoiding Obstacles

Reading the River, Part 1: Avoiding Obstacles A sandbar ripped this skeg box right out of the hull.

Underwater Obstacles

Keep an eye out for V-shaped patterns in the water. Stationary objects underneath the surface create wakes just like boats do. The V will point toward you when you’re rowing with the current and away from you when you’re rowing against the current. Underwater obstacles don’t always disturb the water above them, but if you see this pattern in the surface of the water, stay away!

Floating Debris

This boat hit a log at full speed. Boom! Thankfully, everyone was ok.

Although there's a chance that you will encounter a log or other debris in the river regardless of the weather or season, the amount of debris increases significantly after heavy rain (or any rain) or snowmelt. This is also when the current is faster, so be especially vigilant during early spring and for several days after a storm.

Debris can be anywhere, but it's often found in the middle of the river where the current is faster, and can collect in eddies and dead water such as inlets along the shore.

The denser (and therefore more potentially dangerous) the object, the lower it will float in the water. I can remember seeing a tree that was so waterlogged from being frozen all winter that the two seagulls standing on it looked like they were sliding down the river on their feet. That would have been a boat-stopper for sure.


Since sandbars rarely create a disturbance in the water flowing over them, the best way to avoid them is to understand the general topology of the riverbed before your go out, and steer very clear of areas where the water is known to be shallow. Some parts of a river are predictably shallow:

  • The inside of a bend in the river
  • Both the upstream and the downstream ends of an island (especially the downstream end)
  • Around large bridge abutments and other objects that are fixed to the bottom of the river

Obstacles in Your Blind Spot

Typical blind-spot loggo.

This article is for both blind boats and coxed boats, but this section is mainly for coxed eights. How do you manage the giant rower-shaped blind spot directly in front of you? Even if you're steering straight, there are going to be moments when your point varies--two seat takes an extra hard stroke, five seat washes out a little--and if you're paying attention, you can get a pretty good idea of what's ahead at those moments. You can also lean out to the side to get a better look. Use your hips to keep your weight centered in the boat as much as possible, and be aware of the timing of this maneuver, but don't be afraid to sacrifice a little bit of set once in awhile to keep your crew safe.

Thank you Finish Line Shell Repair for the awesome educational photos.