River Safety Lesson Plans


Establish a short simple code of conduct based on showing respect and observing basic safety regulations such as wearing PFD’s. Have parents and students sign off on this and keep it on file. Include a description of the discipline procedures for students.

Personal Floatation Devices 

Lecture: Personal flotation devices (or PFDs for short) are the most important piece of safety equipment you can have on a boat. Most boats are required to have a wearable PFD on board for each passenger, but PFDs are like seatbelts in a car: “It won’t work if you don’t wear it.” PFDs are very important because in the event that you fall overboard, a personal flotation device will help to prevent you from drowning. One of our favorite sayings about PFDs is: “They float-you don’t!” Everyone on a boat must have a wearable PFD on board that is US Coast Guard approved, in good condition, and is the correct size for the person it is intended for. Children age 12 and under must wear their PFD on all boats 20 feet and under and on all canoes and kayaks. In addition, one type 4 throwable PFD is required on all boats 16 feet and over.     

Put On The PFDs  


Hands On: Have the teens each pick out and put on a PFD. Check the fit by raising his or her arms while someone else is pulling up on the PFD--if the PFD is properly fitted, it will not slip over their head.  
A description of PFDs can be found on our page called The Right PFD for You and a description of how to put one on can be found on the River Safety page. You can download a poster from Wear it Right.


The Canoe 

Lecture/Demonstration: Provide a brief description of the parts of the canoe: bow (front), stern (rear), and gunwales (also called gunnels- the upper edges of the canoe's sides). Provide a brief description of the parts of the paddle--grip (where your top hand goes), shaft (pole part where your bottom hand goes), and blade (part that goes in the water). Demonstrate the proper steps of getting into a canoe (this can initially be done on dry land).
  1. The canoe should be in the water as far as possible. If the boat is too far up on the shore it will cause “bridging”- a boat that rocks and is difficult and dangerous to enter. One person should steady the boat by bracing it between their knees and holding the gunwales steady with their arms while others get in.
  2. Everyone should maintain three points of contact with the canoe while entering it. One hand should be on each gunwale, and one foot in the center of the canoe. STAY LOW to slide to your position in the boat and keep your feet on the center rivet line. Remember- NEVER stand up in a canoe!
  3. The first person in the boat should steady it with the paddle while the others get in.
  4. Be sure that your boat is now in deep enough in the water to push off.
  5. Remind everyone to keep his or her weight centered over the seat or center of the canoe.
Please remember that no one is permitted to tip his or her canoe today. If you remember to follow the steps outlined above, NEVER to stand in a canoe, and to always keep your weight centered, you will NOT tip.
An overview of canoeing can be found on our website on the Canoe Safety page.

Short Canoe Ride (optional)


Hands On: Each teen should get to complete a short canoe ride. (Note: putting inexperienced kids on moving water is not advisable. A pond with still water and no current is safer. Put two kids per canoe or three if they’re very small. One adult in each canoe with kids is optional but a good idea, depending on the policy of sponsoring club/facility, amount of help available, and number of safety boats in the water.) Remember- always have a spare boat on the side of the pond for a safety boat.      

Safety Jigsaw



  • Students will understand that a personal flotation device (PFD) should be worn when in a boat or canoe.
  • Students will be able to put on a PFD and test to determine if the fit is appropriate.
  • Students will recognize the importance entering a canoe safely.
  • Optional; Students will complete a short canoe ride.


Create icon cards using the material provided on the Jigsaw Icon page.



  1. Divide students into manageable sized groups (4-5).
  2. Provide each student with a copy of an icon card and assign one section of the water safety information to each group (i.e. importance of PFD's, putting on a PFD and test, canoe safety rules) to research and become an expert on.
  3. After students have read and understood the information with their group, create a "jigsaw" of learning. Divide students up like you would a jigsaw puzzle, one student from each group joining with one from each of the other groups so that each group now consists of an expert in each section of water safety.
  4. Have the members of these newly assigned groups share their area of expertise. When finished, each member of the class should have learned about all water safety areas on the icon card.
  5. Now that the students are experts, they are ready to create Safety Sticker to share with friends and family.



Safety Stickers


Students will create a sticker to support a safety message.
Core subject integration: Health and safety, art, social studies.


  • White construction paper
  • Crayons, markers
  • Double-sided tape
  • Laminating materials


This lesson can be used following an individual River Safety lesson.
  1. Brainstorm river safety messages learned for the risk area just completed or the entire program.
  2. List the messages on a chart or chalkboard.
  3. Tell the students that they are going to design stickers to promote River Safety.
  4. Have students think of ways to illustrate one or more messages.
  5. Using the circle template, draw circles on white construction paper.
  6. Distribute the construction paper to students.
  7. Have students complete one or more stickers illustrating a safety message.
  8. Laminate the stickers for durability.
  9. Attach double-sided tape to the back of the stickers.
Students can wear their stickers, use them to decorate notebooks, or distribute them to other students, teachers, or family members.

Expand this lesson

Invite a parent in the advertising field to visit the classroom to share the process of developing an advertising campaign and, in particular, the use of stickers in promoting messages.


Fun Stuff

You can make wearing a PFD more fun by having the students come up with a "fashion show", ways to decorate their PFD's, and pointing out that even pooches where PFDs.

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Laura Calwell,
Mar 12, 2010, 10:03 AM
Laura Calwell,
Mar 13, 2010, 11:45 AM