Monday, May 18, 2009

DPT--River Safety

You know how we can tell that it is late spring in our area? People drowning in local rivers becomes a daily event. As soon as the weather heats up, the rivers draw people to them like moths to a flame, often with tragic consequences. People--locals and tourists alike--head for the local rivers as soon as the temperatures reach the 70s in this area, however they don't realize the danger they are putting themselves in. It is very important that you know the water in your location, and for that matter, the water where you are vacationing. Here's some safety tips:
  • Any time you are boating, canoeing, kayaking, or rafting, ALWAYS wear a life jacket no matter how good a swimmer you are or how short a distance you are going. Wearing a helmet is also a good idea.
  • Realize that cold water will kill you no matter how good a swimmer you are or how hot the weather is. The rivers in our area average 40-50 degrees on a good day; this temperature causes hypothermia very quickly. Often so quickly that even good swimmers do not have time to get themselves out of the water before their limbs are rendered useless from the cold.
  • Rivers are more dangerous than usual in the early spring to mid summer time period. From about late March to late June, the rivers here run high, fast, and cold because the water that flows into these rivers comes from snow run off in the mountains.
  • If you are unfamiliar with a river, go with a guide. There is no shame in calling up a guide service to take you kayaking, fly fishing, or canoeing the first few times you go to a new river. Not only will this get you familiar with the river, but knowledgeable guides are worth their weight in gold--they provide tips and tricks that only long time locals know; this saves you the learning curve and can lead you to some stellar fishing spots!.
  • Learn how to swim, for starters, then take a life guarding course. Even if you are an OK swimmer, if your kid falls into the river, your natural reaction will be to go in after him. The problem is that rescuing someone in the water takes different skills than just basic swimming skills (ie: you need to know how to rescue the person without allowing them to pull you under with them).
  • Take a safe boating course. I know old timers will think this is a waste of time and others will wonder how hard can be to buy a boat at Costco and paddle it in a local river, however there are many things about boating that are worth learning in a course rather than from the school of hard knocks.
  • Note that many of the dangers, especially in our local rivers, are from snags (old trees and debris) that have flowed down the river over the winter. People get their kayaks stuck in these old trees that you can't see but which may be sitting less than a foot from the surface of the water. Snags are also a huge drowning risk--once you get caught against a snag it is hard to get yourself away from it because the rushing current keeps you pushed up against it. Holes, walls, undercuts, and rock sieves can also be dangerous.
  • Know the river you will be on. Where are the dams? The waterfalls? How does changing weather affect the river you will be on? Flash floods are common in the southwest and heavy rains in the mountains can mean rivers that suddenly flow higher and faster than usual.
  • Watch where you're going. Overhanging trees can knock you right out of your boat.
  • Learn CPR and first aid. You're going to need these skills after you pull someone out of the water.
  • Don't boat or fish alone. It's always fun to go with a friend and it's much safer too.
  • Leave an itinerary with a responsible friend. At least they will now where to start looking for you if you don't return.
  • Don't be afraid to portage if you are unsure of a safe route through a difficult stretch of water or if the particular area is beyond your skill level.
  • Take some extra safety gear with you, including: a first aid kit, a cell phone or radio that will work in your location, a spare paddle, etc.
  • When you are on vacation, ask the locals about river/lake/sea conditions. People who live in landlocked areas may have no idea that when they get off of a cruise ship at a tropical island that the water risks are different. Rip tides, jelly fish, tsunamis, water snakes, and high surf are all things to know about BEFORE you hop into the water.


  1. Another danger is that in spring some mountains still have a large amount of snow in upper elevations.

    Oftimes in my area hikers will go up into the mountains, crossing unbridged streams - only to find they cannot get back down as the streams swell with snowmelt during a warm day.

    Many hikers have become trapped in the higher elevations because of this - and the weather can become very bad at a moments notice up there.

    Others have drowned attempting to cross swollen streams that were mere trickles just a few hours before.

  2. It happen in 1994.
    I was at the Kern river when a kid got swept by the current in a fraction of a second. His father turn around to see him go and whithin 2 or 3 seconds he was on the other side of the river, Thanks to a fellow that was aware and reach to save him.

    Lucky kid. My kids see what happened and they decided to stay away from the river.

    Even if you try to play it safe, its hard to keep an eye 100% on the kids.

    That man saved that kid and only got thanks when he shoul have had a medal.

    There are a lot of silent heroes.

  3. One more point you forgot to make that magnifies the spring/summer water sports danger, is alcohol. As a river rat myself, who spends alot of the summer on the water, the amount of alcohol consumed along our waterways here in the PNW on hot days is mind boogling in my opinion.

    The Sandy river especially at Glenn Otto Park, was/is a prime example, historically speaking, of cold water and alcohol consumption not mixing to well.