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River Courtesy and Manners

Rivers will remain unspoiled for future generations only if protected and cared for by those who use them today. It is important that we set high standards for ourselves and minimize our impact as much as possible.

Campsites | Construction | Fires | Wood | Bedsites | Washing | Garbage | Water Supply | Fish | Food Preparation | Noise | Human waste carry out method | Group Equipment | Float Plan | Important Tips | River Flow | River Courtesy

River touring makes little impact on the environment. It is quiet, and non-polluting. Except for the put-in, overnight campsites, and take-out, paddlers leave no trace on a water trail. Thousands of paddlers can use a river or lake and you can never tell they have been there. Good camping conduct is needed to enjoy river touring without depreciating the water trail in any way, and leaving no lasting trace.


Much of the land on a river could be under private ownership. All river users should be aware of the location of public/private lands and should respect the rights and privacy of landowners. You should utilize only approved campsites, islands and public land areas. It is prohibited by law to trespass on private land. Rattlesnakes are commonly found along the river. Be careful and observant. Poison oak is common along many rivers in California. Learn to identify poison oak: (it has shiny oak-like green or deep red leaves in groups of three). Avoid contact with any part of the poison oak plant.


Minimize building for kitchen emplacements and shelter. Don't disarrange the scene. Use tents or tarps. Never cut boughs for poles, or put nails in trees. Don't harm fragile vegetation. Climbing the bank of a river destroys vegetation, muddies the water and accelerates erosion. This action can have serious consequences for the wildlife which inhabit this riparian area.


A campfire permit is required in California. It can be obtained from any office of the following: U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, or California Department of Forestry. NEVER LEAVE A FIRE UNATTENDED! Build fires only in a safe location. Use a fire pan (an old barbecue or garbage can lid with sides at least two inches high will work) Fire pans are required by special use river permits in wilderness areas. The fire pan will collect all ashes to be disposed of in the river the next morning. Bring pliers to handle the fire pan if you need to move it while it's hot. Clear a 10 ft. circle around the fire pan for safety. Please be aware that summer conditions are extremely dry and fire danger is usually high. Carry the cold fire pan into the moving current of the river, any wood that remains will float, collect it and carry the wood to the next camp to be burned again. Tend fires with extreme care, and completely extinguish them prior to retiring for the night or leaving the area. Do not build fire rings, or put fires against a log, back rock, or too close to tents or sleeping bags which blown sparks can burn. Keep fires small...Never bury a fire. It can escape from under the dirt. A 5" by 7" bladed shovel with a 12" handle is required by law to attend all fires. Stoves are to be used for cooking. Always fill lanterns or stoves outdoors away from any flame. Do not use lanterns or stoves in your tent or vehicle. Carry fuel in metal containers only. Cigarettes must be thoroughly extinguished! Any uncontrolled fires should be reported immediately.


Use only down wood. Do not cut standing trees, living or dead.... nor break off their branches. Snags are picturesque and should not be molested. Axe work on down logs and stumps mar the atmosphere. Consider carrying your own wood, especially when bad weather may leave little dry wood for your camp fire.


Don't excavate, find a naturally level spot. Erase evidence of your bed when breaking camp. Double check the area before you leave, forgotten laundry is litter. Use a ground cloth.


Use a small wash pan for laundry and sponge bathing. Keep soap out of rivers and lakes. Dump all waste water 100 feet from any river, stream or lake. Do your pot scrubbing and washing well back from the shore. Use the three bucket system of dish washing; The first bucket is for washing with soap containing adequate amounts of hot water (110 to 120 degrees), the second bucket is for rinsing with hot water, the third bucket is for dipping in a chlorine and water rinse to kill bacteria and simple disinfection. Be sure all utensils are scraped into a garbage bag before washing. Use 1 ounce of bleach to 5 gallons of water for your rinse. Allow utensils to remain for 30 seconds in the rinse. The utensils should be air dried and then covered or put away once dry. NOTE: The water is to be kept hot during the entire dish washing operation.


Place all your litter and solid waste in a garbage bag for later disposal. Some burnables may be disposed of in the fire. Place the garbage bag inside a stronger bag for carrying in your boat. No garbage should be deposited along the river or lake except in approved receptacles, or after the trip. Have your garbage bag accessible so you can pick up litter along the river. Never bring glass. Food waste should be deposited in your garbage bag also. DON'T LITTER! Take cans, bottles, wrappers, cigarette butts, etc., with you when you leave the river and recycle or dispose of them properly. If you can pack it in you can pack it out. Young fish, snakes, and lizards can become trapped and die inside pop cans. Small animals such as raccoons can get their paws caught or cut in empty food cans. Ducks foraging for food can become entangled in plastic loop six pack carriers. Discarded film packs often contain a toxic chemical which can be poisonous to deer or other animals that eat them.

Water Supply

DO NOT DRINK OR USE WATER FROM RIVERS OR LAKES. A protozoa parasite called GIARDIA is found in almost every water source in the west. It is not destroyed by simple disinfection. It must be filtered out with a water purifier. It can cause dysentery, fevers, and other illnesses. Carry and use a water purification device to filter on site water or obtain and carry potable water from a private source you know is safe. Carry 2 quarts per person per day minimum for drinking.


Catch only as many fish as you need or can consume. After cleaning fish, deposit the entrails in your garbage bag. Never throw entrails, head, etc. back into the water. Anyone fishing must have a valid fishing license. Your state's Fish and Game department can provide you with the current season and license information.

Food Preparation

Before you start to prepare any food, wash your hands with liquid soap and water. Hands should be air dried or use a new paper towel. You should have some form of table (a canoe turned upside down makes a great table) with an easily cleanable surface for food storage and preparation. Do not store or prepare food on the ground. Your perishable food or beverage is best stored at temperatures below 45 degrees F or above 140 degrees to prevent pathogenic bacterial growth. A readily visible thermometer attached to the interior lid of your ice chest will help ensure proper temperatures. It is suggested to use the 60 quart size ice chest because the temperature requirements are easier to control than the larger ones. Running water should be provided in all areas where food is prepared or utensils washed. A spigot type cooler with safe water can be hung from a tree for washing hands before eating. Personal guide knives, hunting knives, pocket knives etc., are not to be used in food preparation. All multi-use utensils used in food preparation should be maintained in good condition; made of non-toxic materials; cleaned after each use; and stored in a sanitary container when not in use. Your utensils should have only one use: FOOD PREPARATION. Keep fuel and insecticides away from food storage and food preparation, keep them in a separate container. Be sure all food that is perishable is fresh and purchased just before your trip. Prepare food at home and package it so camping won't be such a chore. Zip-loc bags help in keeping food dry. Use recipes that better adapt to cooking outdoors. See our recipe section.


Be a considerate camper. Don't crowd other camps. Noise is out of harmony on a wilderness river trip. Radios, tapes and pets should be left at home.

Human waste carry out method

Because of the impact on soils and vegetation and the hazard to human health presented in the burial system, it is now suggested (required for river use permits) that all solid human wastes be carried out from the river canyon. At first glance this requirement seems impossible to comply with. It is much simpler than it appears and is actually a lot easier than the old burial system. The following is one system that works. The items necessary are:

  1. 2 Ammo cans (rocket boxes), the big ones commonly 18" by 8" by 14".
  2. Plastic toilet seat. (inspect before your trip, being plastic they break)
  3. Large, heavy duty plastic bags. (15 compactor trash bags work well 2' by 2 1/2' and 10 large heavy duty garbage bags.)
  4. Deodorant chemical (septic-mate, aqua chem, chlorine bleach, quick lime, etc. Obtain organic and biodegradable type from your local RV supply store, follow directions on the container).
  5. Toilet paper.
  6. Hand washing bucket and liquid soap.
  7. Rubber gloves and scissors.

The system is set up as follows: One of the ammo cans serves as the actual toilet container. The ammo can is first lined with two of the heavy duty plastic bags. Fold the excess bag around the top edge of the can. Pour the deodorant into the open bag top and place the toilet seat on top of the can. The toilet is now ready to use. The hand washing bucket and liquid soap can be placed close. Used toilet paper and articles particular to feminine hygiene (tampons and sanitary napkins) can be placed directly into the toilet. After each deposit, the toilet is covered with a large plastic bag, thus discouraging flies. When camp is to be broken, it takes only a few minutes to dismantle the toilet system and store the feces. Put on your rubber gloves and squeeze the excess air out of the bag and tie it off. This may be done by placing the lower part of the bag into the wash bucket and allowing the water to force out excess air. This is more effective than doing it by hand. At this point, place the bag containing the feces into a second bag if you have not already done so. This is a security measure against leakage. This is tied off securely. The storage bag is then placed into the ammo can, the lid sealed, and the container ready for storage until the next days camp. The toilet seat, extra plastic bags, toilet paper, soap, and deodorant are stored in another ammo can, ready for the next stop's use. It is necessary only to remove two cans per night from the boat, one for storage of equipment another for actual use as a toilet and the subsequent storage of the fecal products. The amount of chemical used per day depends on the type used and the amount of people on the trip. With liquid deodorant, a few ounces at the bottom of the bag is sufficient for six or seven people (follow directions on the container). If you are using bleach, more is required, approximately double. Quick lime should be sprinkled over feces after each use.

The deodorant reduces bacterial growth in the feces and the production of methane gas. The number of ammo cans needed is dependent on the number of people and the length of the trip. I have found that it is easy to container about 70 to 80 person-days of feces in one ammo box. Thus for an 8 day, 10 person trip, you should need one ammo can for feces storage and one ammo can for equipment. The key is to get all the air out of the plastic bag to reduce its size as much as possible. The above is a basic system, with the intent to safely container the feces, and prevent it from generating methane gas in the absence of air in the ammo cans. Leave the toilet set up until the party breaks camp. When camp is broken, it takes only a few minutes to dismantle the toilet system. Wash hands thoroughly after handling the toilet.

At the end of your trip, please deposit the solid waste accumulated in an approved sanitary landfill, dumping station, portable john, or other approved site. Do not deposit in garbage cans. You have carried the material down miles of river, be sure to carry it to a proper place to dispose of it. To dump the waste in a pumped dumping station or portable john the bag must be cut and the waste dumped into the container disposing of the bag separately. Do this by holding the bag over the hole and cutting off a corner of the bag with a pair of scissors. Wear your gloves and the scissors should be used only for this purpose. Wash up and clean your hands thoroughly...

Some rivers require a washable reusable container approved by that river manager. An ammo box is acceptable if it contains a reusable hard plastic liner. Urination can occur in the river or in the wet sand below the high water line or in your toilet. Do not store toilet or associated toilet articles next to food or food equipment to prevent contamination.

Group Equipment

Group equipment should include a first aid kit, repair kit (gray duct tape, and appropriate materials to repair the types of boats on the trip), map and compass, extra flashlight with fresh batteries, waterproof matches, extra throw bag with 65 feet floating line, rescue ropes of at least 125 feet long (for rescuing pinned boats), spare paddles/oars, and a spare P.F.D. (life jacket) for every 10 people. If the river dictates other rescue equipment such as a "Z" rig, prussick loops, carabiners, rescue pulleys, etc. should be carried.

Float Plan

If you are going for a day or a wilderness trip let a responsible person know where you are going and what time you plan to be off the river. They should have a certain time established when they can contact the authorities if you do not check in on time. You can establish check points along the way which civilization can be contacted if necessary. Knowing the location of help and hospitals can speed your rescue in any case. The County Sheriff is the first person to contact in most cases. Carry change in your first aid kit for phone calls. Should an accident occur ask or help from other boaters. Pass messages with passing boats to let your contact person know what is happening or to contact the authorities. On remote wilderness rivers stay in one area on the river bank where help can find you. If you must leave the site be cautious avoid going overland as it is easy to get lost or disoriented in remote areas. Know where you are going for help, otherwise follow the river.

Important Tips

Most people get in trouble on wilderness trips because of poor equipment, or they get in over their head (they don't have the skills or experience to handle the river.) They just aren't prepared for the the conditions of the trip. Know the AWA Safety Code. Don't overload your boat or improperly load it out of trim as it will be hard to control and turn over more easily. Weight should be stowed as low in the center of the boat as possible. Make sure your boat is proper for the trip. Open canoes should be restricted to low class 3 rivers when they are heavily loaded, use extreme caution, or use raft support (let the raft carry all the gear). Don't forget the keys to the shuttle car at the end of your trip!!!

River Flow

The water flow can change the difficulty of a run on a river. Flows can make a tremendous difference in current velocities and size of the rapids. Obtain flow conditions before the trip and determine how it will effect the boating skills of the entire group. Refer to the International Scale of River Difficulty for class of river difficulty.

River Courtesy
  1. Always be prepared to offer assistance when problems appear. Don't be afraid to ask for assistance from other boaters.
  2. Know the safety code and practice it.
  3. NEVER boat alone, usually a group of three boats is minimum on a river.
  4. Respect the rights of fishermen, go farthest away as possible so he/she can't think you scared the fish. Be considerate of other non-boaters enjoying the water, and private landowners.
  5. Respect river access and landowner rights. Do not cross over private land without permission.
  6. If you come upon another group on a river, ask permission to pass or go around, don't barge into their group.
  7. Keep a reasonable distance between boats in your group and other groups. Only one boat at a time usually runs a rapid. This will allow sufficient maneuvering time to avoid potential problems if another boater has trouble. Don't pass other boats in a rapid.
  8. Remember large boats or rafts and heavily loaded boats have a lot of momentum and are difficult to stop.
  9. The boat proceeding downstream has the right of way. Don't pull out in front of it unless there is plenty of room. Do not abuse or insist upon the right of way.
  10. Don't hog good surfing waves of good eddys.
  11. If you are in a group stay between your lead boat and your sweep boat.
  12. Be responsible for the boat in front of you and behind you, if a rescue is necessary you will be the closest to help.
  13. In case of a swim GET THE PEOPLE OUT FIRST if they separate from their boat, then get the boat. Down-stream boats pick up any floating gear, and up-stream boats assist in the rescue.
  14. Don't move on until your group is ready to go. If the last boat just caught up to you they haven't had time to rest yet. Avoid over exertion and exposure to excessive cold or heat.
  15. Don't monopolize space at the put-in or take-out areas, when getting your group organized. Keep your gear separate and confined to a small area.
  16. If you are a non-swimmer, have a current medical condition, disability, or past history, you must inform your group leader.
  17. Be aware of possible hypothermia victims, and excessive alcoholic consumption which lowers your body temperature and dulls judgement. The river itself is no place for alcohol or drugs.

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