Jun 09 2011

Playing it Safe on the River, Part 2


Along with understanding the river you will be on and knowing the flow, having an understanding of the specific types of hazards you may encounter can be life saving. These include: dangerous hydraulics, strainers, foot entrapment, water temperature, and strong currents.

danger river

Dangerous hydraulics include low head dams and a river feature known as a hole. Low head dams are man made structures where the water spills over the top of the dam. This creates a recirculating current on the downstream side that can keep and potentially drown a person. These are typically river wide and are very difficult to get out of if you get caught in them. A hole is similar to a low head dam, only it is created on the downstream side of a natural feature in the river such as a rock or ledge, and is usually not river wide. Avoid tubing over these features.

A strainer does just what it says; water goes through but nothing else does, like a pasta strainer. These are formed when trees and other debris collect within the river creating a log jam. These can be very dangerous and should be avoided.

Foot entrapment occurs when your foot gets caught on something on the bottom of the river and the current is strong enough to push your body under water, forcing your head under water. Even if help is nearby, it can be difficult to remove the trapped foot before the person drowns. To avoid this do no to let your feet hang in the water, and never try to stand up in swift current that is over your knees.

Hypothermia is a serious risk even in the warm summer months because of the cold water. In the winter months the water is, well, almost freezing. As the temperature increases in April and May, the water does not start warming up because it is freshly melted snow. By July most rivers have peaked, and only then does the water temperature start to increase. By August the water temperature is not as shockingly cold, and feels quite good on a hot day. The danger of cold water is amplified if a situation arises which keeps you exposed to the cold for longer than expected. If you are going tubing when the air or water temperature are cold wear proper gear.

All of the hazards on a river increase with high water and stronger currents. Hydraulics are more powerful, strainers form because of debris in the water and are more deadly, and strong currents can hold you under in the case of foot entrapment. That is why it is safer to wait until low water to tube.



Use a life jacket. These things save lives. There are reasons kayakers and rafters use them. I know most tubers do not wear one and I personally do not when the river is extremely low. Ultimately it is up to you to determine the level of risk that is involved with floating down a river.

A river is not an amusement park ride. Know what you are getting into, know the conditions of the river, and understand what hazards you may encounter and what to do to avoid them. I hope this is a start to help you gain the knowledge you need to enjoy the river safely this summer. For more information please see the following links.

Part 2 of 2, (Part 1)

1 ping

  1. Playing it Safe on the River, Part 1 » Hydraulically Inclined

    […] Part 2 of this series Written by: Dusty Robinson on June 7, 2011.on May 15, 2012. […]

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