The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail


Change to VHF Marine Radio Channel 67

If you haven’t already done this, it’s time to switch to channel 67 on you VHF Marine Radio. You don’t absolutely need one; lots of successful expeditions have made it without. But on the other hand it will make your decision making significantly easier as paddle into the busiest stretch of river on the entire Mississippi. See below for more description of best use practices. Below Baton Rouge all commercial traffic leaves channel 13 and goes to channel 67. You should do the same. But if you are in a flotilla of vessels, use another channel for your own talk, such as VHF 9, or some other private channel.

Good Use of your VHF Marine Radio

Towboat pilots use VHF marine radios for communication between vessels, and also with harbor tows, lockmasters, the US Coast Guard, and recreational craft. Commercial traffic uses VHF cannel 13 while recreational VHF channel 9. Channel 9 is rarely used because they are so few pleasure boats on the river! Some paddlers carry radios and monitor VHF channel 13. Any frequent paddlers and any long-distance paddlers should carry one, at the very least for emergency purposes. When in doubt alert tow pilots of your presence with simple statements like “canoe heading downstream right bank descending along green can buoys, crossing over and making landing left bank descending at Such-and-Such Landing.” Most tow pilots will appreciate the information and respond with encouragement and good advice. Others will swear at you and tell you to get the **** out of the way, which is not helpful at all, and might lead you to making bad decisions. If you are using one, be a wise user. Tow pilots know the river like no others. But they don’t understand canoes or kayaks very well, and have little to no idea about how canoes & kayaks & stand-up-paddleboards move through the water, and what our special abilities are -- as well as our limitations. So, if you have one, and can use it, great. You are well-prepared. But if you don’t have a VHF marine radio, or aren’t comfortable with using one, don’t worry. Thousands of successful expeditions have completed their journey without one. Note: Commercial Traffic use VHF channel 67 between Baton Rouge and the Gulf of Mexico.

SOS Emergencies -- How to call MAYDAY

Please note that Channel 16 is the official marine vessel safety channel and is the only channel that the Coast Guard officially monitors (though they usually monitor channel 67 in South Louisiana). Channel 16 is the channel on which MAYDAY broadcasts should be made. However due to the limits of handheld VHF radios and the possibility that vessels in your immediate area not monitoring channel 16 you may get a quicker response to your call for help on channel 67.

If you need to contact the USCG directly it is best to call the USCG command center for sector New Orleans on the phone at 504-846-5923. This is a good number to have programmed into your cell phone. Also note that 911 operators may have a limited ability to get responders who are able to make marine rescues to your location in a timely manner.

We recommend that you attempt to get help on channel 67 first, then channel 16, and then by calling the USCG via cellphone at 504-846-5923.

Ladies on the river

Women paddlers have special concerns and considerations that male paddlers may not be aware of. In this intro section, our Mighty Quapaw leader Zoe Sundra shares some advice for other female paddlers: Paddling on the river alone as a woman should be approached in a similar way to walking through any city alone at night. Be aware of your surroundings when off river. Avoid telling strangers specific details of your trip, campsite or that you are paddling alone. When on the river and breaking for meals and camp, be aware when you are passing through areas with higher concentrations of hunting camps and recreational areas. I have noticed these areas usually go hand in hand with groups of men who have been drinking heavily, are typically carrying guns and can definitely outweigh and overpower a female, no matter her strength. Most of these interactions will be harmless and people will genuinely be interested in what you are doing, but an interaction can quickly change. Keep conversations guarded and brief, avoid sharing details and if necessary say you are traveling with male companions. As unfortunate as this reality is, it is a risk a woman has to accept when paddling through remote regions of our country. (Zoe Sundra)

Water Quality

In many places, the Lower Mississippi is as wild and pristine a river as you will find anywhere in the continental United States. However, the mighty Mississippi also serves as a super highway of commercial transportation and industrial manufacturing, increasingly so as you paddle further downstream toward the Gulf. With that in mind, the Lower Mississippi river paddler should be aware of environmental hazards that may be present from activities that contribute possibly harmful pollution into the river. Leaks and spills from barges and commercial vessels as well as outfalls from municipalities and industrial facilities have the potential to introduce dangerous pollution into the Mississippi River within the vicinity of paddlers. It is important to be aware and avoid these sorts of hazards. As a general rule of thumb, if you notice an unusual / unpleasant smell or water that just doesn't look right, AVOID IT! Dangerous pollution can sometimes produce pungent smells, unnatural foaming, very dark or unusual colored water and oily sheen. In extreme instances, the pollution a paddler may encounter on the Lower Mississippi could produce harmful fumes that irritate the lungs and eyes and water that could irritate the skin if contact is made. These sorts of environmental hazards should be given a wide berth by paddlers. Do not swim, drink, wash clothes or dishes or even paddle within the immediate vicinity of these pollution sources. This sort of pollution not only poses a risk to paddlers but diminishes the health of the Mississippi River and all it's important uses downstream, including drinking water for cities like New Orleans. As paddlers, you are part of a small group of people that witness all the nooks and crannies of the greatest river in North America. If you see something of concern on the Mississippi river be sure to report it to the appropriate authority, such as the United States Coast Guard or the Mississippi or Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. If you have a camera or smart phone, take a picture (with GPS if possible) and be sure to write down where and when the picture was taken. The Mississippi River gives us many many blessings. As paddlers we have the unique opportunity to safeguard the Mississippi by being its voice and speaking up when we see pollution or other concerns that need to be improved. (Paul Orr)