Updated: December 2022
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, our 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, we 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, consider 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)
- Drinking 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)
- First aid kit
- 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 (make your own with some bungee cord)
- 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)
- 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. Use this combo rope)
- Knife (an absolute must if you are using any kind of rope or webbing. Try this one since it doesn’t have a tip.)
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.
Check out ORK’s recreation map to find out locations of landings. ORK also has a few suggested paddles with historical information to make the path more informative.
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 us 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:
- Georgia River Guide – free for iOS and Android
Discover and explore Georgia’s more than 30 unique water trails using the free Georgia River Guide mobile app powered by Georgia River Network. Georgia’s network of water trails comprise hundreds of miles of navigable waterways and stretch to every corner of the state. Like the water equivalent of a hiking trail, each water trail has safe public access points and are suitable for day-trips.
This is an incredibly simple app that just pulls gauge data to your phone. 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.
- 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. This app includes more points on the map than Tides4Fishing (mentioned above), but T4F is much easier to interpret.
- Weather Bug (Spark) – free for iOS and Android
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.
- Merlin Bird ID – free for iOS and Android
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.
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. 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). 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.
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.
In the meantime, stay safe and have fun,
Adapted from a post by Jesse Chapman, 2016.