The Regional Dialects of Boating

In my first month up in New England, I have boated two rivers and met many different paddlers, and I’ve noticed New England’s regional boating dialect. The dialect is the overall style of paddling and viewing the river that varies from region to region. Below is a list of at least the most notable differences between southeastern and northeastern boaters.

The way paddlers carry their boats 

Surfing hell hole in southern Ocoee whitewater

Well, NE paddlers don’t carry so much as drag their boats. Over rocks, through the whole stretch of woods, doesn’t really matter, they just drag ’em. The line of difference seems to be around the D.C. area because those that came from there or further south all carried their boats. I noticed that trend and started asking people where they were from, and the answers (at least for the bigger group on the second trip) confirmed my hypothesis. Can’t really see one trumping the other, just two different ways to bring the boat to and from the water.

What constitutes avoiding a strainer (and cutting it away)

My favorite difference, the way NE paddlers handle strainers if vastly different than with southeastern boaters. We started off with the usual warning from the trip leaders, “Be careful, there’s a lot of wood in this river,” but the similarity ended there. Trees covered half to all the river, it seemed, around every 150 yards. The NE boaters’ idea of being careful with the strainers is to just make sure you hoist your bow high enough to clear the log and ride over it. On top of that, when they say that another boater has sawed “away” the strainer, what they really mean is someone cut about three feet of the strainer for you to squeeze through. No one but me seemed to have an issue with this.

For the most part in the South, you avoid strainers. Period. Unless we’ve got a completely alternate route on the river we can take, we just portage. One time, a log was out on a river with the tip pointing partially in the main route of  a rapid. A good five or six feet stood between the rapid and the actual log. We walked it. We don’t really think too much about the options; we just walk it. The NE paddlers style their various means above and over the logs. I think this difference might be due to the frequency at which each group sees strainers. I’ve seen more strainers on the two river trips up here than in my entire two years of boating down South.

Old Dams on the River

Also a way more common occurrence up here, which means boofing the sides of them is more common. Just like strainers, the southeastern boaters simply avoid dams. According to Jim McCloud, one of the group leaders for the Little Suncook

The boofable dam on the Little Suncook

trip, “We know they can be really dangerous so usually we avoid dams.” Except, of course, for the dam on the Little Suncook, which people on average hit no less than twice and some three to four times. Other than that, though, they avoid them (cue sarcasm).

River Classification

The last and probably most obvious difference of regional boating in general, is the varying opinions on what class a rapid/river is. The general trend here is very conservative classification. According to people (and AW), I’ve paddled two class IV sections, and they were not the class IV I was raised on down South. They were much easier, although according to Chris Rolt, the other trip leader for the Little Suncook, rivers are rated up here more for their consequences than anything else. The South tends to rate more toward difficulty with a smaller emphasis on the consequences (though it is still there, of course).


So those differences were the biggest ones for me during my time up here so far. However, a lot more similarities occur between the two regions, most notably the boating community. The paddlers up here have welcomed me into their fold and quickly made me feel like I belong here, reminding me of the very strong paddling group down in Knoxville. Having beer at the end of the river is also a great similarity that I am so happy crossed regional borders! Lastly, the support on the river was the same. Everyone looked out for everyone else, took care of each other, and had fun with each other in a way that reminded me of home. While the differences can be striking (and straight up funny), the similarities have kept me from getting too homesick and made the excitement of exploring NE whitewater all the greater.



Local boating communities are:

Appalachian Mountain Club Boston Chapter

New England River Runners

Merrimack Valley River Paddlers


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