Prep Talk: Tools and Tips for Your Next Paddling Adventure

Updated: March 2020

The Ogeechee and Canoochee are truly remarkable rivers that teem with life and drastically changes from season to season. If you happen to miss out on one of our trips or you want to organize your own, my hope is that you will benefit from these tools and tips while planning your own Ogeechee River basin adventure.


Canoes work very well on this river, although you may have a tougher time getting past some logs that are close to the surface of the water. Also, I don’t recommend taking canoes into coastal waters, as they are very difficult to get back into if you flip over and can’t scramble up onto a bank. If you’re looking for a kayak that works anywhere in the basin, I’d recommend a boat somewhere between 10 and 16 feet in length – anything longer and you’ll be frustrated in tight turns upstream; anything shorter and you’ll be miserable bobbing in open water closer to the coast. If you are on a tight budget, I’ve found that your money will travel further if you get a used boat on Craigslist from a reputable company rather than a cheap new boat from a big retail store.

Other than a seaworthy vessel, here’s a list of other things you should consider bringing, starting out with essentials then moving into some more specialized pieces of gear.

  • Personal Flotation Device, aka life jacket (required by law – get it and wear it)
  • Water (I know it’s not gear but people forget – bring at least 2 liters if you’re going to be out for more than a couple hours)

    Chaco Outcross Evo 2
    Chaco Outcross Evo 2
  • Whistle
  • First aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Dry bag (for phone and keys)
  • GPS and/or paper map (I recommend both; GPS doesn’t have to be a dedicated handheld – more in the Apps section)
  • Spare paddle
  • Bailing pump
  • Paddle leash (I made my own with some bungee cord)

    Salamander Retriever Throw Bag
    Salamander Retriever Throw Bag
  • Folding saw
  • Duct tape
  • Paddling gloves
  • Sponge (for cleaning your boat out and getting those small amounts of water out)
  • Toilet paper (or baby wipes since it won’t matter too much if they get wet)
  • Closed-toe shoes (they could be old tennis shoes or dedicated river shoes)
  • Battery pack or power bank for your phone (especially on multi-day trips or if you are using a GPS app)
  • Dry suit or pants (a must if you are paddling in cold water)

    NRS Captain Rescue Knife
    NRS Captain Rescue Knife
  • Paddle float (specifically for coastal paddling – probably requires some training)
  • Tow/throw rope (for groups – also a good idea to get trained or watch some YouTube videos. I use this combo rope)
  • Knife (an absolute must if you are using any kind of rope or webbing. I like this one since it doesn’t have a tip and I can’t accidentally stab myself if I drop it.) 


The key to a smooth paddle trip is planning. Beyond looking at the weather forecast, have a very good idea of where you are going and how many miles you plan to log. There are several guide books that can help you plan your route (and make copies for paper maps to throw into a map bag). Both Google Earth and Google Maps (you can make your own map under “Your Places”) are excellent free resources for planning a route and measuring the distance.

There are many places that are difficult to paddle at certain times of year due to low water levels (particularly on the Canoochee and Upper Ogeechee). The USGS site is an excellent way to check on water levels, although it’s important to know that those figures are relative and don’t exactly correlate to how much water is in the river. For instance, three feet of water at the Rocky Ford gauge sounds like a lot, but that’s about the minimum you’d want to look for to have a relatively portage-free day of paddling. Long story short, you’ll need to do some trial and error to get to know your local waterway and how it relates to gauge data. In some cases, you can use NOAAs predictive models to let you know what the water level will look like in the near future.

If you are paddling near the coast, you must pay attention to the tide. If you read this and then think to yourself, “Yeah, but I’ll be fine,” you’re wrong.

Don’t cut corners when you plan. There are a bunch of great sites for looking at the tide but Tides4Fishing is great. It provides a ton of information in very aesthetically pleasing graphics that are very easy to understand. Also, if you like fishing, it provides a good deal of info on the fishing forecast.

With good planning, all that’s left is keeping track of where you are and enjoying your beautiful surroundings, which leads me to…


There are tons of incredibly useful apps out there for paddle enthusiasts. Here’s a short list of the ones that I think are most useful:

This app could almost replace this entire blog post. Almost. It offers a ton of features like gear checklists depending on the trip you’re planning, automated float plans with custom alerts if you don’t check in on time, river levels, tide charts, and a map of nearby access points. That is a whole bunch of great features … if they worked reliably.

This is an incredibly simple app that just pulls gauge data to your phone. Want to know what the river level is on the fly? This app is the easiest way to find out.  You can set up favorites so you do not have to search for your river every time. Also, this app has a feature where you can set up custom alerts to notify you when conditions are nice or if the river is approaching flood stage – whatever you want. The alerts have been a little glitchy for me in the past but not enough for me to ditch this useful app. One caveat, this app pulls from those same USGS gauges mentioned before and will require a bit of a learning curve as you figure out what the gauge height means for actual river conditions, especially when the river is low. Worst-case scenario is you’ll plan a paddle trip and go on a long walk instead … with your boat … loaded with gear. Yes, it’s irritating but probably not life-threatening.

  • Tides Near Me – free versions with ads for iOS and Android

I have this one on my phone in case I’m in a pinch but I NEVER use it. Very similar to RiverApp, Tides Near Me is an incredibly simple app that lists tide charts, you guessed it, near you. Honestly, I think they went a little too simple on this app as it lacks a ton of useful information like moon phase and tidal coefficients. There are no easy-to-understand graphs so if you’re not hip with tidal current lingo, you’ll have to Bing it. I kind of like that this app includes more points on the map than Tides4Fishing (mentioned above), but T4F is so much easier to interpret that I always use that site instead for my trip planning.  Do you have a free or cheap tide app that you love?  Please let me know!  I’ll add it here and give you a shout.

  • MotionX GPS – iOS only ($1.99); OruxMaps seems to be a good Android alternative (plus it’s free!) although I’ve never used it.

I typically use a dedicated handheld GPS for ORK paddle trips to save my phone’s battery more than anything else, but this is a remarkably full-featured GPS app and I’ve used it a bunch. You can do just about anything you could do with a handheld GPS and since it utilizes your phone’s GPS, you don’t necessarily need cell service for it to work (although search functions and online maps won’t work – you’d need to download your map ahead of time). GPS on your phone is a power hog so I recommend using this app to find where you are, then putting your phone in airplane mode to save power. Alternatively, you could bring a secondary power source for your phone (like a power bank), but be wary of capsizing while all these gadgets are out. Even if you get a waterproof case for your phone or a waterproof power bank, they are usually only waterproof if they’re NOT plugged in to anything.

  • Weather Bug (Spark) – free for iOS and Android

I said I wasn’t going to review a weather forecast site or app and I stand by that. I don’t particularly like the Weather Bug app any better than any other app that says “Possible afternoon thunderstorms” all summer long, BUT I love Spark. Spark is a lightning detection function within this app that shows you, in real time, where lightning is striking. It’s very useful in seeing where the worst part of a storm is actually moving and in knowing when it’s time to get out of the water and crouch down next to some shrubs (not in the open and not next to tall trees either – but I’m sure you already knew that). This is a good one to have on your phone when those sudden storms take you off guard.

This is not a paddling app. Road ID was developed by the people that make medical identification bracelets for cyclists and runners. [A side note: I think it’s unbelievable that there is a company dedicated to identifying cyclists that have been hit by cars. One of ORKs board members was actually hit while cycling recently, and luckily, he’s slated to make a full recovery. Give cyclists 3 feet! End of side note.] I’ve repurposed this app for paddling as a method for sharing a real-time float plan. You just set how long you plan on being out and identify your contact person/people. Once you begin, your contact person receives a text message with a link to a map that shows where you are in real-time. If you don’t select “Stop eCrumbs” before your indicated time, your contact person will receive a text alert. They could then try to call you or notify the appropriate authorities.

DON’T paddle alone. DO share your paddle trip plans with someone who is not on the water whether or not you decide to use this handy app.

Let’s end on one of my favorite paddling apps. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology developed Merlin Bird ID. It utilizes your location and a brief set of bird descriptions (size, color, behavior) to then give you a list of what you might be looking at. Each option on that list has several pictures, birdcalls and distribution maps to help you identify the avian friend you’ve spotted. It’s incredibly easy to use and a must have for anyone who is even moderately interested in birding.


I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a little about paddling safety. As you explore the wonders of our aquatic environment, you will undoubtedly run into a number of hazards that I won’t even attempt to outline – everything from motorboat traffic to strainers to wasp nests to children swinging canoe paddles in tight quarters. You will never be fully prepared for every possible threat, but you will come out just fine if you slow down, take a breath, and calmly deal with the situation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had paddlers flip their boats at the mere sight of a non-venomous snake. Stay calm and breathe. Also, wear your PFD. PFDs are like a bicycle helmet (cue eye roll from everyone who has ever paddled with me). It does you no good hanging on your handlebars when you get into a wreck. Your PFD does you no good stuffed under your seat or in a storage compartment if you are taken off guard by a sudden hazard.

Moving on. While I don’t want to dig into every potential hazard, I do want to mention a couple. Paddling in cold water or in flood conditions is no joke and should not be attempted by novices. It’s also not a good idea to paddle alone. Most importantly, when you are planning a trip, lose your ego for a minute and accurately assess your abilities and the abilities of those joining you. If, during your planning, the hairs on your neck ever stand up or you feel butterflies in your stomach, do yourself a favor. Cancel your trip. Gather more information. Get the experience you need. Then try again. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

In the meantime, stay safe and have fun,

Original post by Jesse, 2016.

How you can help ORK right now

It is a strange, unsettling time. Each day is filled with uncertainty and it can leave us feeling like we don’t know what to do. There are ways you can help Ogeechee Riverkeeper, the environment and yourself right now. Here’s how:

Take a walk

Bearing in mind all the guidelines for social distancing and other health limitations, getting outside is highly recommended. Find a place to walk and get moving. It could be a trail in a state park or simply around your neighborhood. Take notice of the trees and plants along your route. Listen. Take in the scents of spring. We know it anecdotally, and it’s been proven scientifically – being in nature is good for your health and mental wellbeing.

If you are able, take a bag with you and pick up any litter you may find. You’ll feel better knowing you made a difference.


We know there is a lot of uncertainty now. The same is true for all nonprofits.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper is still doing its important work of keeping water clean, even if we can’t be in the office right now. Giving to Ogeechee Riverkeeper ensures we can keep monitoring, keep testing, and keep fighting for months and years to come.

Make a monthly, recurring donation
Make a single donation
Become an annual member


The City of Savannah has launched a coordinated effort to make sure storm drains a clear of leaves, debris, and litter. Anyone can adopt a drain to keep an eye on and it’s a great project to do with kids and helps them understand how storm water affects street flooding and water pollution. Plus, there’s an interactive app they can use to enter information and updates on the drain. The map even allows you to choose a location that drains into the Ogeechee River.

But even if your area doesn’t have a dedicated program, you can still take responsibility for a drain near your home. If you find it’s not clear or needs maintenance, contact your municipal authority.


One of the great things about social media is the ability to stay connected, even if we have to stay apart. While you are out on your walk, anywhere in our watershed, take a photo of something inspiring that you see and use hashtag #ORKoutside. We will share as many as we can on our social media channels.

Be safe. Be well. Enjoy nature. Take care.

Rain Gardens

Take a look outside next time it’s raining. Is there a spot in your yard where water always puddles? Do you have trouble with water gathering around your foundation? Luckily, a rain garden is an easy and attractive way to handle the issue, and it has the added benefit of helping the environment.

Rain gardens also keep rainwater runoff out of the streets and storm drains, which reduces pollution and roadway flooding. Gardens and soil act as a slow filter for the rainwater, preventing sediment, chemicals, nutrients and more from washing into storm drains and out into the environment.

Additionally, by helping the rain water drain through soil instead of pooling up, you will be reducing mosquito breeding grounds. Mosquitoes need standing water and at least 7-10 days to breed. Rain gardens can drain the area in 24-48 hours.

Ready to create a rain garden? Identify a low point in the landscape. Consider the conditions that the plants will be in. Is it shady most of the day? Or will it get full sun?

Do an inspection of areas where water normally runs off. This could be around gutter downspouts, eaves, or porch overhangs. Trace where water goes from there. If it is collecting in a puddle and not draining away, consider creating a trench to direct the water to your rain garden. Some people choose to bury a pipe from the bottom of a downspout directly to their rain garden.

Excavate the low area that will be your rain garden so that the lowest point is about 6” deep. Your rain garden can be as large or small as you want, but make sure it is at least 10 feet away from your home or building.

Find native flowers and grasses that will tolerate “wet feet” and will flourish in the sun/shade conditions of the garden. Local nurseries or extensions can assist in identifying native plants that will thrive.

After planting flowers and grasses, consider adding river rock or gravel as a top layer to keep soil in place. You can also edge the rain garden with bricks or pavers for a more formal look.

Additional Resources

UGA Extension Services – Rain garden information

Georgia Environmental Protection Division – Coastal Stormwater Supplement


Ogeechee Riverkeeper partners with Georgia Environmental Protection Division and Milliken & Company to offer live streaming water quality data

For Immediate Release

SAVANNAH, GA – May 21, 2019 – Ogeechee Riverkeeper is pleased to announce a collaborative partnership with Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and Milliken & Company.

As part of Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s ongoing efforts to establish a robust water quality monitoring program in the basin, Georgia EPD has agreed to provide two continuous water quality monitoring stations on the Ogeechee River, one upstream and the other downstream from the Milliken & Company Longleaf Plant’s discharge pipe in Screven County.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper will be responsible for maintenance and data collection, and will share the data with the public on the organization’s website. To ensure its operations do not negatively impact the health of the river, Milliken & Company will sponsor the maintenance costs of these stations. The two stations will collect pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature and conductivity data every 15 minutes and update the website.

“This is a great opportunity to show the public that an advocacy group, a regulatory agency and industry can work together to ensure that our water resources are used wisely and protected for future generations,” says Damon Mullis, Ogeechee Riverkeeper.

The ongoing, live monitoring will present new educational and engagement opportunities for the public and provide data for researchers working on the river.

“Environmental stewardship is a core value of Milliken & Company in both our products and manufacturing processes,” shared Jeff Price, president of Milliken’s Performance and Protective Textiles division. “We look forward to continued collaboration with the Georgia EPD and Ogeechee Riverkeeper for transparent methods to protect the health of the Ogeechee River.”

For more information on the stations and for future data monitoring, visit

About Ogeechee Riverkeeper

Ogeechee Riverkeeper, licensed by the Waterkeeper Alliance, works throughout the five-thousand square mile watershed to protect, preserve, and improve the water quality of the Ogeechee River basin.


Ogeechee Riverkeeper
Damon Mullis, Riverkeeper & Executive Director
PO Box 16206
Savannah, GA 31416
Ph. 866-942-6222

Milliken & Company
Mollie Williams
Ph. 864-419-6204