Personal Preparedness and Responsibility
- Be a competent swimmer, with the ability to handle yourself underwater.
- Wear a life jacket. a snugly-fitting vest-type life preserver offers back and shoulder protection as well as the flotation needed to swim safely in whitewater.
- Wear a solid, correctly-fitted helmet when upsets are likely. This is essential in kayaks or covered canoes, and recommended for open canoeists using thigh straps and rafters running steep drops.
- Do not boat out of control. Your skills should be sufficient to stop or reach shore before reaching danger. Do not enter a rapid unless you are reasonably sure that you can run it safely or swim it without injury.
- Whitewater rivers contain many hazards which are not always easily recognized. The following are the most frequent killers.
- High Water. The river’s speed and power increase tremendously as the flow increases, raising the difficulty of most rapids. Rescue becomes progressively harder as the water rises, adding to the danger. Floating debris and strainers make even an easy rapid quite hazardous. It is often misleading to judge the river level at the put in, Since a small rise in a wide, shallow place will be multiplied many times where the river narrows. Use reliable gauge information whenever possible, and be aware that sun on snowpack, hard rain, and upstream dam releases may greatly increase the flow.
- Cold. Cold drains your strength and robs you of the ability to make sound decisions on matters affecting your survival. Cold-water immersion, because of the initial shock and the rapid heat loss which follows, is especially dangerous. Dress appropriately for bad weather or sudden immersion in the water. When the water temperature is less than 50 degrees F., a wetsuit or drysuit is essential for protection if you swim. Next best is wool or pile clothing under a waterproof shell. In this case, you should also carry waterproof matches and a change of clothing in a waterproof bag. If, after prolonged exposure, a person experiences uncontrollable shaking, loss of coordination, or difficulty speaking, he or she is hypothermic, and needs your assistance.
- Strainers. Brush, fallen trees, bridge pilings, undercut rocks or anything else which allows river current to sweep through can pin boats and boaters against the obstacle. Water pressure on anything trapped this way can be overwhelming. rescue is often extremely difficult. Pinning may occur in fast current, with little or not whitewater to warn of the danger.
- Dams, weirs, ledges, reversals, holes, and hydraulics. When water drops over a obstacle, it curls back on itself, forming a strong upstream current which may be capable of holding a boat or swimmer. Some holes make for excellent sport. Others are proven killers. Paddlers who cannot recognize the difference should avoid all but the smallest holes. Hydraulics around man-made dams must be treated with utmost respect regardless of their height or the level of the river. Despite their seemingly benign appearance, they can create an almost escape-proof trap. The swimmer’s only exit from the “drowning machine” is to dive below the surface when the downstream current is flowing beneath the reversal.
- Broaching. when a boat is pushed sideways against a rock by strong current, it may collapse and wrap. this is especially dangerous to kayak and decked canoe paddlers; these boats will collapse and the combination of indestructible hulls and tight outfitting may create a deadly trap. even without entrapment, releasing pinned boats can be extremely time-consuming and dangerous. to avoid pinning, throw your weight downstream towards the rock. this allows the current to slide harmlessly underneath the hull.
- Boating alone is discouraged. The minimum party is three people or two craft.
- Have a frank knowledge of your boating ability, and don’t attempt rivers or rapids which lie beyond that ability.
- Be in Good physical and mental condition, consistent with the difficulties which may be expected.