River Safety Tips
As the rivers rise again this spring, I wanted to take a moment to pass on some things I think about in regards to river safety. Fast flowing mountains streams are captivating on hot days. There is little that is as fun as riding the whitewater roller coaster of a high water river. But things can go wrong quickly on a cold mountain river. Below is some practical advice for anyone planning to be in the water.
First, there is the obvious:
1. Wear a PFD
2. Go with others
3. Don’t go anywhere you are not comfortable swimming
4. Always swim all the way to shore, ie, never stand up in the river.
Some more complex ideas:
1. Dress for the Swim/ Takeout: Cold is a significant factor around here. Even on a hot day a long swim or rescue can put people in the water for a long time. Cold water increases exhaustion. Wear enough clothes that you want to jump in the water to cool off. That will set you up to be warm at the take-out or in the event having to be in the water helping others.
2. Wear shoes for others safety: CRMS requires everyone to wear closed toed shoes in their boats that will stay on in a swim. We do this because we have had situations where an instructor has been able to scramble to a pinned student quickly. Barefoot people cannot respond as quickly. River shoes should attach firmly, protect the entire foot, and ideally have a sole that is designed for traction on wet rocks.
3. Assume every turn has a tree on it: There is nothing more dangerous than a tree in the river. During spring, trees migrate as the water rises and settle as it drops. Every spring members of the kayak faculty pre-paddle those stretches of river that tend to collect trees and again before (HS)2 starts. Whenever I paddle smaller continuous streams with students I use a couple of tactics that help me scout for trees ahead. I eddy out at the outside of bends to increase the distance I can see, remind everyone of signals before the run, and carry a whistle. If anything is bobbing or looks branchy in the water, I stop the group and inspect it.
4. Practice swimming in the river: It is fun if you dress appropriately. Find a deep rapid with a run out that has a pool and ideally a couple eddies. Short deep crawl strokes will have you moving around the river with ease. Always dive flat with your head out of the water. Catch eddies surf holes. Wade out to a sunny rock. 50% of all swift water rescue courses are wading and swimming, and realistically that is about all that I ever use.
The river program at CRMS has been helping students have powerful and fun experiences since 1958. Our students and faculty have enjoyed rivers all over the world. The rivers of the west have shaped their lives. With a bit of respect and care, they can shape your life as well.