MO River Paddling Guide

Whether you’re new to river racing, or just in need a little refresher – we’ve put together some helpful info on navigating in moving water to get you race ready! First, paddling the Missouri River means steering clear of stationary objects in the water. The main objects to watch out for: Navigation buoys, wing dikes, parked barges and bridge pilings.

Navigation Buoys: These big, heavy steel objects are in place to mark shallow spots in the river. The two different types in the Missouri, red nun buoys and green can buoys, are anchored to the riverbed by a long cable, meaning they often drift in wide patterns. As you paddle downstream, allow for a significant distance between you and these buoys, keeping the green on your right and red to your left.

Wing Dikes: These are rock structures that have been built into the river to force the water away from the banks, thereby narrowing the channel and speeding up the river. Wing dikes are almost always found on the opposite side of the navigation channel. The water directly behind a wing dike is typically calm, and can be a good place to answer nature’s call. However, be careful to avoid colliding with a wing dike, as the force of the current can pin your boat and cause it to capsize.

Parked Barges: Barges are typically hard to miss, but you should be careful to allow a significant distance between your boat and a parked barge because water continues to pass under the raked front end, and can easily pin and/or pull under a small boat.

Bridge Pilings: Also not hard to miss, but the current around bridge pilings can be surprisingly strong so it is best to stay as near as possible to the middle of the space between them.

Note: Due to the excessive spring rainfall, the River level is unusually high this year. High water levels increase the speed and strength of the current. Extra caution is advised.

Traffic on the Missouri River is mostly recreational. To manage wakes, keep your bow pointed into the oncoming wave, and be sure your gear is secure and properly balanced. Though to a much lesser degree, there is also some tow and barge traffic on the river as well. Tows and barges are typically hard to miss in the water, but should you see one approaching, it is best to make a course for the non-channel side, and then begin to assess the size of the wake. A heavy barge headed upstream creates the biggest wake, while a lighter barge headed downstream makes almost no wake at all. Wing dikes can be good shelter for refuge from a larger wake.

It’s also important to remember to take proper measures to protect yourself from heat and sun.  Be sure to replace fluids often, and monitor your water supply carefully. If you feel you are beginning to overheat, beach your boat and take a swim. Also, be sure to apply sunscreen liberally to avoid burns – which further reduce your body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Recommended Racing Gear:

  • Food (Protein bars are a good bet)
  • Sun Block
  • Hat
  • Sun Glasses
  • Missouri River Map
  • Cell Phone
  • Line or Rope suitable for towing
  • Knife
  • Ample supply of water
  • Life vests


Check out these links for more useful information about paddling on the Missouri River:


Lewis and Clark Water Trail Page

River Miles

Missouri Canoe and Floaters Association


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