Those who have had to give up and return to shore due to poor boating conditions know it can be a tough decision.
“When spring is in the air, snowmelt creates high water in our streams and rivers and high expectations for some good boating or rafting,” said Liz Lodman, the boat education coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
The combination of high water and high expectations can be deadly when it turns out that the conditions are too extreme for safe boating.
“It can be hard to put safety ahead of adventure when you’ve spent hours planning a boating trip, but sometimes the only safe choice is to stay off the water,” Lodman said.
Lodman stressed that all floaters wear a well-fitted personal flotation device or life jacket when on and around the water. “If you are in a boat or even near a rapidly flowing river, wear a life jacket,” she said. “It could save your life. If you fall into cold water without a life jacket on you could drown in a matter of minutes.”
Lodman also recommended that boaters make a study of high-water hazards and be prepared to cope with dangers that may include:
- debris in water
- cold water
- logs that get lodged together and create a hazard where water can flow through and around them but a boat can’t get through
- bridge abutments that catch debris may create swirling waves
- turbid, muddy water that makes other hazards in the water difficult or impossible to see
- the possibility of capsizing and having to rescue yourself or others, or to warm wet boaters quickly to prevent hypothermia.
Lodman said boaters should not assume a river is the same as it was during a previous trip. “Rivers change their channels and new hazards, such as overhanging or broken tree branches and log jams, may exist,” she said.
“Make it part of your plan to reschedule a trip if conditions deteriorate,” Lodman said.
Anyone planning to launch from a Fishing Access Site or State Park can check for closures or restrictions by visiting fwp.mt.gov, and then click “Restrictions and Closures.”
(Report via FWP; Feature photo via heartlandboating.com)