Stay Safe on the James

The James River is a wonderful destination for recreation and enjoyment. Each year, thousands if not millions, of Virginians go to the James to boat, fish, swim, hike or just take in the beautiful scenery.

It is important to remember to take the proper safety precautions to ensure your experience on the river is fun and enjoyable. Check river conditions for swimming and paddling on the James River Watch. Each week from Memorial Day to Labor Day, volunteers monitor the river and report conditions to the James RIVERKEEPER®.

Before heading out for paddle, make sure you follow the Basic Safe Paddling Checklist:


Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Research and tell someone your route and schedule.
  • Carry maps of the area.
  • Watch weather and river conditions.
  • Do not paddle alone.

Use Proper Equipment

  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD) with whistle attached
  • A hat to shield the sun or helmet if kayaking in rapids
  • Water shoes or sneakers
  • Waterproof or quick drying clothing
  • Dry bag packed with small first aid kit, flashlight, a small knife, bug repellent, sunscreen, and snacks
  • Drinking water – take more that you think you’ll need

Safety on the Water

  • Scout rapids Class III and up
  • Portage around big rapids and dams
  • Do not stand up in rapids if you capsize. Float through them with your feet up and pointing downstream.
  • Get off the river if you hear thunder or see lightning.

Know Before You Go

Want to learn more about water quality on the James?

Read the report >


Here are some websites that can help you make sure your time on the river is healthy and safe:

River and Weather Conditions

Here are some websites that offer river and weather conditions to help you prepare for your next trip: