What Is a Float Plan & What Information Should Be Included?

float plan

Many of my favorite places to paddle are in sparsely populated or wilderness areas, where help or radio contact may not always be possible. It doesn’t matter whether you’re going out for an hour, a day, a week, or a month, you should always file a float plan and leave it with either park rangers or someone you trust.

In this article, we’ll discuss the information that should be included in every float plan, why they’re essential, and why it’s imperative that once you file your float plan, you don’t deviate from it unless it’s absolutely necessary. 

What is a Float Plan?

A float plan is a written description of your planned paddling or boating itinerary. The plan is then left with either park or forest service rangers or friends or family members. 

Plans should be as informative as possible and include as many descriptive details about you and your paddling partners.

Why You Need a Float Plan

In an emergency, leaving a float plan can be the difference between returning safely and tragedy. Poor weather, wild animals, and user error can lead to situations where you can’t get home within the scheduled time. 

Imagine that you need to attempt a dangerous crossing in poor weather or that your boat is damaged. Without a float plan, the only way to get back home is to paddle. 

But if you’ve left a detailed float plan, you have the option of sitting and waiting it out in a safer environment. A rescue party will know you’re late, and if you’ve included your paddling location, all you have to do is wait for them to come to get you. 

Where Can You Find Forms to Create a Float Plan?

Many federally run areas include their own float plan forms that you’ll be required to fill out before departing. But many other places don’t, and it’s up to you to file one yourself.

There are several good resources available online that you can use. These are preferable to make one on your own. They include essential information that even experienced paddlers and boaters can forget if they fill out a float plan from memory. 

In many cases, float plan forms are designed for boaters, but they work fine for kayakers too. 

What Information Should Be Included in a Float Plan?

Make your float plan as detailed as possible. The most important information to provide is an accurate description of where and when you plan on paddling. Include potential or likely campsites and when you intend on arriving at these locations. 

Always include your departure and return date and times. In many cases, a paddler isn’t considered missing or overdue until 24 hours after their listed return time.

Include the color, make, and model of your kayak and other visible details like the color of your life jacket, rain gear (if applicable), and tent. Including this information can make it easier for people to recognize you from a distance. Also, mention what safety gear you’ll be carrying, such as a VHF radio, signal light, flares, horn, etc. 

Who Should You File A Float Plan With?

This will depend on where you’re paddling. You must leave a float plan with the ranger station or park headquarters in many national or state parks. Most of these places require a permit to paddle and camp anyway. A float plan with all the necessary information can be filed at that time. 

Other less regulated areas may not have this additional safety net. In this case, leave your float plan with a friend or family member, ideally someone acquainted with the area that you’ll be paddling. Include the same information you’d leave with a park ranger, along with relevant emergency contact information and who to call if you’re overdue by more than a day.

What Are Your Responsibilities After Filing a Float Plan?

A detailed float plan won’t do much good if you don’t stick to it. Once your plan is filed, do not deviate from it unless continuing the plan puts you at risk. The temptation to go off the beaten path or the inspiration to explore elsewhere can be strong. But if you get into trouble and need help, no one will know where to look for you. 

If you have to change your float plan after filing, try to update your emergency contact or the ranger station. VHF, GPS, and inReach devices are invaluable in these situations.