Welcome to our CCA (Canoe Cruisers Association) - ACA class. We have chosen to hold this class on the Little Falls run in the summer time for a large variety of reasons:

  • The Lock 5 area has adequate room for parking, facilities, and a wide grassy area for training purposes.
  • The put-in is a very short distance away by foot.
  • No need to set any shuttles - a HUGE plus.
  • We can find areas without a great deal of river traffic (unlike Old Angler's Inn which is used by all of the commercial vendors). Kayak classes practice rescue skills like throw ropes, swimming, etc.  This can be problematic in congested areas.
  • The water level stays very consistent, even when the main branch of the Potomac rises several feet.
  • This run has a large variety of water features and challenges. The main stem of the Potomac provides excellent and safe rapids to practice aggressive swimming techniques and isn't crowded.
  • Best of all, it is relatively local.

Little Falls - a Very Special Area

Just take a look at the list above. No where else in the nation provides free access to an area quite like Little Falls. This area is managed and protected by the US Park Service and yet with all these great features, it is almost never crowded. Compare Little Falls to Old Angler's Inn just upstream and you will understand why we chose this location. If you develop adequate skills to venture into more challenging whitewater, you will find the main branch of the Potomac has everything from class II all the way up to very solid class IV boating lines. This area also has the Lock 5 slackwater which is perfect for practicing all of the flat water strokes and skills.  Little Falls is one of the few places where you can keep both novices and advanced boaters quite happy and challenged. After this class, get out and practice on numerous rivers, consider taking the Little Falls Workout, and try out some slalom races in the Feeder Canal. Here is what the American Whitewater site has to say about this run: AW Little Falls Run.

Directions to Little Falls

Directions from the I-95 North:

  • I-95 South to the Capital Beltway (I-495)
  • I-495 West towards Bethesda
  • Exit 40 Cabin John Parkway South towards Clara Barton Parkway
  • Clara Barton Parkway towards Washington, DC
  • You will pass a White concrete building on your right (Brookmont Dam)
  • Pass Lock 6 and slow down
  • A short distance is Lock 5 which is a gravel parking lot - park here

Meet Your Instructors and Assistants

I have been whitewater boating for 30+ years in everything from kayaks, C Boats, open canoes, and rafts. I have also been teaching kayak and rescue classes for many years and for several clubs. I have taught numerous Little Falls Rescue clinics and lead annual Tucker County, WV - ACA joint rescue exercises. I am also both an ACA SWR and River Kayaking certified instructor.

I often co-teach this class with a variety certified instructors like Ron Ray,Tanya Marhefka, Jason Bates, Paul Englehart, Chris Garber, and others. I also get many very seasoned assistants like Tony Shea, Marcia Pradines, Jay Huber, and others.  Several have been teaching this class for many years and are excellent instructors.  I would also like to thank Calleva (and LAKs as well) - both have provided extensive support to our club classes for a number of years.

Provide details on your fellow instructors.

This is a club sponsored training class. As such, I am able to recruit a large number of experienced helpers. All of my assistants have completed at least one ACA Level 4 SWR class (most many more). Many of my co-instructors are dual certified in River Kayak and SWR. Each has their own special expertise like First Aid, Climbing, Video, etc. Many have been paddling for many years as well and can talk about rescues/incidents they have come across.

Describe your assistants.

This packet of information has a great deal of material I have learned over the years. I have distributed this packet before the class to aid in your training efforts. The packet of information should also be quite useful as you gain more experience and want additional training and resources. I would like to thank several people that have helped me out by reviewing this packet:

  • Sam Fowlkes
  • Robin Pope
  • Ron Ray
  • Michelle White
  • Jay Huber

Both the ACA SWR & River Kayaking classes provide a great foundation for safe boating. It is equally important to practice the various rescue skills throughout each season - especially throw rope practice. Each Little Falls Workout practices 5 rescue skills plus a variety of boat handling skills and is a great way to keep these skills sharp. I also recommend taking an ACA SWR refresher class periodically, especially with new instructors. Each instructor has different experiences that can broaden your knowledge base. Each Fall, we run a one day rescue scenarios class that is only open to Level 4 trained partcipants. This gives us a chance to try more difficult situations and is a great deal of fun.


Since this is an ACA class, we follow all of the rules and requirements of the ACA. Each student is required to sign liability waivers as part of class registration. I also have you complete a short medical disclosure form which helps alert us to potentially dangerous issues like severe allergies so we can learn where your medications are located in case they are needed.  The class registration packet is available at: CCA Class Registration. You will notice that we have both the ACA and the CCA waiver forms. Since we hold our classes on US National Park property, we can't accept paperwork or remittance on the day of the class. All proceeds from this class are used to cover various ACA expenses such as class registration fees and insurance. Instructors and assistants are not paid - we do this for the love of this sport. Hopefully you can join us as an assistant sometime down the road.

We always say, never paddle alone and for good reason.  If you should pin your boat or even end up swimming and injure yourself, you will often need the help of others.  When paddling in a group, it is important to be a team player.  Keep an eye out for a couple of paddlers in front and behind.  Prior to putting on, it isn't a bad idea to discuss potential group gear like a breakdown paddle and a decent first aid kit.  Are there any weak paddlers that need to be shepherded?  Perhaps you can help out in some way.  The trip leader should try to keep the group together.  This requires periodic regrouping.  Weaker paddlers should be moved to near the front of the pack whenever possible.  When you come to particularly difficult rapids, resist the urge of talking someone into running a rapid they don't feel comfortable with.  Group peer pressure is a real big no - no.  Every paddler needs to decide what is best for them on that particular day.  Here is a nice article on judgment: Learning Judgment.

Paddling is a thrilling sport.  You need all of your wits and fast reflexes when dodging rocks and boulders.  There are plenty of fun opportunities when you are on the river.  Drugs or alcohol deaden your senses, slow reaction time, and you really need both when paddling.  We never paddle alone for a good reason, someone in your party may need you to rescue them - it happens.  How would you feel if a close friend died because you couldn't provide assistance due to impairment?  Save the beer and pretzels for your après-boating meeting - dinner perhaps.  This is a great way to blow off steam, look back on the fun you had that day, and cement great friendships.


Hypothermia is not that uncommon in whitewater boating.  Milder forms of hypothermia can even occur on a hot summer day (as many whom have paddled the Savage River and swam have discovered).  Hypothermia in simple terms is when the body's core temperature drops and it doesn't take too much of a drop to cause significant problems.

Here are the various stages of hypothermia:

  • Stage 1: Body temperature drops just a degree of two.  You will notice that the person is shivering and may have blue lips.  Take these warning signals seriously.  Check the persons clothing for suitability.  Provide extra insulating layers and wind protection.  I really like a skull cap to add warmth really fast.  If you have warm liquids like soup, tea, or coffee - offer it to the victim.  If you have been sitting eating lunch, get back to paddling to get the blood flowing again.  If these steps are not feasible, consider walking out with the person.  Whatever you do, don't ignore these symptoms.
  • Stage 2: Body temperature drops 2 - 4 degrees.  This is starting to get very serious.  The body in an effort to save itself shuts down blood flow to the extremities to concentrate on core protection.  The muscles stop working in this stage and that means they can't even hold their paddle properly.  Many start acting rather silly in this stage of hypothermia and are often totally unaware on where they are at.  If someone is in this condition, they don't belong on the river - period!  You need to get them dry and warm pronto.  You also need to evacuate them and get them to a hospital for further evaluation.  In the mean time, wrap in anything that provides significant insulation like a sleeping bag, blankets, space blanket, spare clothing, etc.
  • Stage 3: Body temperature drops roughly 10 degrees.  This takes some time to occur and the body basically shuts down as much as possible.  Heart rate and breathing slow considerably in this stage.  You must get the victim to a hospital or ambulance ASAP!

Prevention is rather simple:

  • Check the weather and water temperatures prior and during the trip.
  • Dress appropriately
  • Dress in layers, bring spare clothing
  • Look for hypothermia signals on your paddling buddies
  • When paddling in cold weather, paddle at least one grade lower than your normal runs remember the 50-50 rule: if either the water temperature or the wind chill factor is 50o or lower - be prepared for hypothermia


The ACA in the Level 1 curriculum covers a couple of strategies for conserving body heat should you capsize in a large body of water and assistance is expected to take some time.  The first is HELP which stands for Heat Escape Lessening Position.  Basically you curl up into a ball exposing as little body surface area as possible.  This is a good strategy if you are by yourself in open water which by itself is a serious lack of good judgment.  The second approach is when a group of boaters have capsized near each other.  This strategy is called HUDDLE which is self-explanatory.  Think of this as a group hug and you are keeping each other warm and can talk to each other.  These strategies and other useful information are in the following ACA pamphlet: Safe Paddling Brochure.


Hyperthermia is the exact opposite of hypothermia, the body gets too hot.  Other terms for hyperthermia is heat exhaustion (beginning stage) or heat stroke (advanced stage).  This isn't as common as hypothermia in paddling but does occur (I know from firsthand experience).  Initially, you begin to sweat profusely which is the bodies cooling system.  Dehydration then takes place.  Muscles cramps are really common and they really smart!  You may get a splitting head ache, tire easily, vomit, and find your heart racing.  Believe it or not, you may shiver periodically.  The body is doing everything it can to drop your core temperature.  You need to take care of this now!  In mild forms, try rolling or use your helmet to pour water on your head.  Consider taking a break and completely immerse your body in the water.  Water does a great job at pulling transferring heat from the body.  Take off excess clothing.  By all means, start drinking - you need to replace lost fluids.  Water is best but sometimes you also need to replace the salts as well.  Dilute Gatorade is great at quickly replacing your vital salts.  I always take a bottle with me and drink throughout the day.  If the situation is serious, take the person to a hospital immediately.


  • Dress suitably, clothing that aids in rapid evaporation is ideal
  • Drink early and often
  • Monitor your urine.  Ideally, it should be clear.  If it is a dark yellow, you are dehydrated.
  • Consider dilute Gatorade to replace salts
  • Get wet.  This is a great time to practice your rolls.
  • Eat lunch in the shade