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River Relief

Canoe Safety

Canoeing the Missouri River is usually easier and safer than most people think. But there are still serious hazards to consider. On the Big Muddy, a few mistakes can turn a peaceful float into a very wet and dangerous situation. It’s a wide river and the current is deceptively swift and strong.

For some clean-ups, we use canoes to gather trash and shuttle it to a flagged location where our trash boats can get it. Don’t overload your canoes or you’re at risk for tipping. We want trash in canoes as little as possible. Just pile the trash at one of our flagged spots and leave it there!

Here are some specific hazards to look out for on the Missouri River:

Wing Dikes

These are the rock structures that jut out into the current. Depending on the river level, they can be fully exposed, safely underwater or dangerously just below surface. To land on an exposed wing dike, it is easier and safer to approach it from downstream. You paddle around the dike then behind it. You can usually catch an eddy current to help you back upstream to land.


Give navigation buoys plenty of room. They are known to bounce around. The wave they create can tip an unbalanced canoe.


Very uncommon these days. If a barge does come along, it’s best to get out of the main channel (that’s where the barges will be and where the waves will be strongest) and point your bow into the wake it leaves behind. The worst place to be is between a barge and shore where the waves can push you against the rocks. The best place to be is behind a wing dike and out of your canoe.


Make sure you’re visible to boats. Turning sideways to the current makes a bigger display.


The current is deceptively strong on the Missouri. It can catch you off-guard and make a tippy canoe into a tipped-over canoe pretty quickly. Keep your center of gravity low and weight balanced evenly across the canoe.


If your canoe is perpendicular to the current and you get caught by a strong crosswind, the canoe will tip easier. is created and maintained by Missouri River Relief, P.O. Box 463, Columbia, MO 65205
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