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Safety on the Water, High Runoff, and High Tides

The closer spring comes, the more water entices people to go out and enjoy the day. Most years in early spring, late winter, runoff from snow in the mountains and rain in the valley’s swells rivers to their banks. High tides and winter rain and snow sometimes cause rivers to overflow. A year like California has had, about every 10 years we have rainfall during the winter of biblical proportions. In these years rivers rise to flood stage and beyond, hills are saturated and collapse taking out homes and anything in the mud slides way.

There is stuff in the water:

The high runoff from the mountains and the King tides we have combine to cause the level of the river to rise to levels it hasn’t been to in 5 to 10 years. On the banks a lot of debris has collected and seems to have found a permanent home in the middle of a long drought. When the river rises all of this debris is introduced into the water, and most of it does what it does, floats down stream. Not all of it floats above the surface of the water, if it does it is able to be seen. Some of it floats just below the water surface, and can not be seen. A sunken log will pierce the hull of a boat and sink it. If the boat is going fast the outcome is compounded with the result often being tragic.

Moving River Bottom:

Rivers are living entities, or so it seems, silt, sand and weeds make up most of the bottom of rivers. Currents move the bottom, a close eye on a depth finder is critical. The bottom can move so quickly that where it was passable yesterday may be blocked today, or at least shifted. It is best if your vessel is equipped with a depth finder, a nautical map of the area you are in, a GPS and a compass. Many times navigating is a team activity, one person watching the water and the other checking the map and depth finder. Constant reminders of where you are and what’s going on with the depth is a huge help.

The water’s cold and the currents unpredictable:

A few days prior to heading out on the river a complete inspection of the vessel and all safety equipment should be made, problems then repaired or replaced as needed. Each person one board should be wearing a life vest that is the proper size and is comfortable. If a life jacket is comfortable it is more likely to be worn. There are many models and designs available, one that’s sure to fit most people. Be especially certain that life jackets fit toddlers and children properly and they cannot wiggle out of them. On each life jacket it is prudent to attach a whistle and a small flashlight. It is advisable that wallets, watches, cell phones and any other valuables be placed in a zip lock bag. If a person ends up in the water, hyperthermia is a life threatening reality. Get to shore as quickly as possible and find a warm spot and if need be prepare to spend a long cold night, if a boat is spotted call for help.

Don’t settle for the statement “oh it will be OK for as long as we will be out.” Actually when we go out on the water we never know for sure just how long we will be out, stack the deck on your side, inspect, repair and replace before you leave. Sitting on the shore wishing you were out beats going out unprepared and meeting disaster. Rivers can be wildly unpredictable, we should expect only that from them.

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