River Safety

Lauren Barnett
- Wyoming Nuggets

Summer is finally here and warm weather activities are beckoning us into the great outdoors. The temperatures are rising, the daylight hours lengthening; it’s the perfect time to get out on the water of a roaring river and enjoy all that it has to offer. That is exactly what Wyoming locals and visitors alike are doing right now. This is the season to discover and enjoy the many reasons people flock to this region’s river systems, and it’s the time to remember the things that keep these rivers safe and enjoyable. Yes, I’m talking about river safety. No matter what your vessel, be it kayak, canoe, raft, dory, or bullboat, it’s important to remember a few key rules. Summer is the perfect time to remind all of us the importance of enjoying these adventurous pastimes with respect for the elements and a safety-conscious mind.

To start, the ability to read a river could be one of the most useful traits in reaching your destination safely. Learning to spot various irregularities and obstacles on the river will aid in your navigation and help you avoid potentially dangerous occurrences. Watch the river; observe its surface, rocks and other obvious obstacles, the shoreline, islands, the speed of its flow. As you become familiar with the river and comfortable in recognizing and understanding the characteristics of these elements, you will find that your ability to maneuver your craft appropriately will come quite naturally. Always try to avoid surprises and never leave anything to chance. Scout your path, especially any drop, bend, or rapid that you cannot see. Having the ability to reach a safety point where you can stop before committing to a blind drop or unclear route is very important. Always try and prepare as much as possible, and stay on a plan for course. Continue to keep in mind that no matter how familiar you are with a river or how prepared you may be, rivers are ever changing entities and with each decent you may encounter a new wave, a new or changed rapid, or different flows. Debris and boulders are always shifting, and the banks adjusting; don’t ever underestimate your river. It is a wise practice to treat every decent as though it were your first.

Boating is always more fun with more people involved, but it’s also safer! You should always plan on paddling with groups of three or more and with at least two craft, in case of the need for assistance. Accidents can happen on some of the simplest stretches, and to some of the most advanced sportsmen. Without a second party available to help if the need should arise, small mishaps can become devastating disasters.

Another thing to keep in mind, is boating within your ability. Knowing your ability at the time you are on the river is key. Take into consideration circumstances such as fatigue, dehydration, weather, and even your mental state. It’s not always wise to go on what you normally may be capable of doing, really hone in on your abilities that day. And of course, avoid peer pressure. If you feel as though you may be getting into something over your head, trust that instinct! Boat within your comfort range. It’s okay to challenge yourself and try new runs, but know your limits. Finding yourself in a situation beyond your control can happen before you know it. It’s always best to play it safe. I know we’ve all heard the phrase many times before, but in this situation it deserves repeating, “it is better to be safe, than sorry.”

Whether renting, borrowing, purchasing, or pulling your own out of the garage, you want to make sure your boating gear is up to par. You should never get on the river with equipment that is faulty or worn out. Proper gear is that which is functioning properly, is being used for its intended usage, and that is appropriate for the class you are running, the weather, terrain, and water temperature. If you are unsure, there are plenty of resources to tap. Consider the experts at your local shop. When purchasing or renting, there will be plenty of advice to be given by the sales professionals and staff there. Talk with them and don’t be shy to ask questions, they should be more than willing to help head you off in the right direction and to make sure you know how to use your new equipment properly. There are also guide and informational books you can refer to for many of the questions you may have. If you’re new to the sport and looking to gear up, or an “old-hand” looking to up-date your equipment, there are numerous opportunities for help. Don’t forget that using proper gear also means wearing a life-vest or personal floatation device at all times, and wearing a helmet in the appropriate waters (all ranks Class II and above).

The river can be a spectacular venue for recreation, but it can also be dangerous. Special skills, planning and preparation, appropriate equipment, and common sense are all important to the safe enjoyment of your water-sport ventures. Taking heed to the rules of river safety can make your trip that much more enjoyable, and keep you out of harm’s way. Learn to respect and know the river, and your boating companions. Keep the river safe for you and those around you, and have fun! Wyoming is home to some amazing waterways. So get out there and experience the exhilaration and beauty the region and this adventure sport have to offer. Happy paddling!
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