Taking the Mystery Out of Float Plans

A paddling float plan can take the form of a text message, a standard form, a note on a piece of paper, or something else entirely, as long as it includes the necessary information. 

A paddling float plan can take the form of a text message, a standard form, a note on a piece of paper, or something else entirely, as long as it includes the necessary information. 

For years and years, my primary float plan was a text message to my dear friend Thomas, “Hey Tom! I’m getting on the water. If you don’t hear from me in four or five hours, check this part of the creek/river/ocean. If you don’t find me, I have probably gone a different direction.” Suffice it to say, I was younger and without kids, so I had less awareness and concern for the potential consequences.

However, upon closer examination, one can see that there were some key components of a solid float plan incorporated into my flippant text messages. After making a few changes to my approach, I can now feel confident that I have done my best to lay the groundwork for a safe paddle.

1)  “Tom” - Tom was a responsible guy, and was often engaged in practices such as homework or working instead of distractions like clear, calm water. Because of this, he was rarely on float trips with me. He was a safe, reliable contact on land who was familiar with my paddling habits. This is an important aspect of any float plan – letting someone know.

 2)  “Four or five hours” - This a vague assessment of time. But time is relative, right? Ten years ago, while paddling down a river, I was often easily distracted by big rocks to climb on or look under. Rarely did I engage in a simple “Point A to Point B” endeavor. At hour four I’d start receiving the obligatory, “Are you still alive?” text messages. These of course went unanswered (see above note on rocks). This frustrated Tom, but by hour five he would inevitably get some colorfully snarky answer. The next key component of a float plan – how long will you be paddling?

3)  “This part of the creek/river/ocean” - There were several floats that I enjoyed. One was on the Saugahatchee River behind my house. It was a simple little rocky creek, but ran through the heart of Banjo County, Alabama, USA. Some of the spots along these floats were, as cliché as it sounds, indescribably beautiful. Some others were, well, let’s just say I was wishing there were fewer than six degrees separating me from Burt Reynolds and his bow. Another favorite of mine was the Coosa River. Now Alabama has more river miles than any other state in our nation, but the Coosa was one of the easiest to get on without extra laziness-inducing logistics. For a nominal fee, the college kids working at Coosa Outdoor Center would haul you up to the dam and drop you off with your paddle craft (not many paddleboards on the water at that time, so it was an old Keowee Tandem for me), then you could take out at COC where your car waited expectantly to sfind out if you had drowned. One hiccup on this river, among the smaller riffles and eddies, was one big class four rapid. Lots of fun for providing an “intimate and inverted” experience with the river for friends who couldn’t paddle, but accidents can happen. There were a few exciting days. All these words lead to this – always include where you are paddling in your float plan.

I love to paddle because I love stories, but now that I have gotten older, my stories often start with reliable information left behind on land in case anything goes wrong. The American Canoe Association has a wealth of information on pre-trip planning, and here is a form that includes entry lines for all pertinent information needed in an emergency situation. The longer and more elaborate the trip one takes, the more information they should include.

Additional resources included in float plans often include maps and coordinates, expected arrival and departure times, and every person on the paddle. These float plans can be left with a friend, family member, or organization. One experienced paddler, Todd Bishop of Bishop Boards, who is a Certified Level 3 Stand-Up Paddleboard Instructor, always leaves his float plan folded on the dashboard of his car. He labels it cleverly as “Float Plan.” This is a smart plan. If emergency services have all the information they need, they can save you. As Todd says, “I don’t mind EMS breaking my window if it means they are going to save my life.”

No matter how simple or how complex your float plan, please remember that it is a safe way to paddle and safe paddling is excellent paddling. I’m about to go paddling, but I’m going to text Tom first. 

Walter Cheatham is an experienced paddler and ACA-Certified Paddling Instructor. Ocean Tribe Paddlers is a club founded by Sanibel Sea School to help the SWFL paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit oceantribepaddlers.org or follow us on Facebook to learn more.