The American Whitewater Association (AW) is our primary lobbying group for open access to rivers. They spend a great deal of time ensuring we can get to put-ins and take-outs for our favorite streams. Some organizations and communities have had bad experiences with a few boaters and have painted all of us with a very broad brush. Some in the public are greatly misinformed about our sport as well - many consider it to be extremely dangerous.
I am old enough to remember getting shot at on the Casselman River, having to sneak down the Upper Yough, hearing about boaters on the Lehigh River looking down the barrel of a shotgun because they capsized and swam to the nearest shore. In our local area, we have had incidents even on Muddy Creek. Fortunately, all of these streams are in good shape access wise these days.
How can you prevent the situations I described above? Pretend you are a river ambassador - be on your best behavior. If you are parking close to someone's property, it really doesn't hurt to ask permission. Most landowners will be extremely impressed. Many are curious, take the time to answer their questions. I have learned a great deal about the streams I have paddled from locals and even fishermen - a great source for hidden strainers. When you finish a rapid and encounter someone fishing, give them a wide berth and wave hello. They really appreciate the respect. If you are taking a break around locals, strike up a conversation - most are exceptionally friendly. I have often let small children sit in my kayak on land - they and their parents get a real big charge out of that. This is another great conversation opener.
One area we really need to be concerned with is changing clothes. Do whatever you can to be very discreet - not always easy. If you are in a populated area, save the after river drink for dinner at a nearby restaurant. Try where possible not to trespass on private property - always get permission first. Whatever you do never block driveways - it is always worth a bit longer paddling trip to avoid this situation.
Leave No Trace
Besides many great thrills while paddling, many enjoy the solitude and raw beauty rivers provide. Even local runs like the Potomac are quite spectacular. It really saddens me when I see people toss trash on the river side. Our club and others in the area have performed numerous river clean-ups in association with the various park authorities. It isn't a bad practice to take along an extra trash bag and tote out small pieces of trash you encounter and dispose in the nearest receptacle. I also highly recommend properly securing gear in your boat so you don't lose anything if you happen to swim. If you severely wrap a boat and are unable to retrieve it (very unlikely with air bags), please contact the local Fire Department so they don't waste scarce resources looking for a non-existent drowned boater.
Rules of the Road
When paddling in groups, maintain adequate spacing between boaters. Avoid running into the boater in front of you. In some cases, you may need to take a different route (remember Plan B). Sit tight in your eddy until you see your next open eddy. This is important for safety and prevents the need to run someone over because you need that next eddy. Always remember that boats coming downstream have the right of way. If you are upstream and can catch an eddy to avoid running someone over, do so. Please don't hold everyone up spending excessive time playing a feature. Also if you feel queasy about running a drop, don't wait until the last minute to portage as this holds everyone up and may be more dangerous for you as well since no one is upstream from you to provide safety. Learn how to read whitewater, don't count on following the back of someone's PFD. They may catch a surprise eddy and leave you stranded. Stay with your group. Bolting downstream and leaving your boating party is really unfair to your fellow boaters and essentially means you are off paddling by yourself - a very dangerous activity. I have seen a number of boaters over the years get into some really bad accidents that way. Mark your gear with your name and phone number. This makes it easy to get the gear back to you and prevents confusion during shuttles and carpools. Make a habit of being on time. Running out of daylight on Winter runs can be deadly. Use flotation in your kayak. This makes it much easier for others to rescue your boat quickly. Bring appropriate safety gear like a throw rope and learn how to use this gear.