Whitewater Safety Sidebar

Yes, I tend to get nervous about a lot of things, but just as paranoid people are sometimes really being followed, there are real dangers in whitewater that I’d be remiss if I glossed over in all my talk of river running. I’d hate for people to read my blog and think whitewater is perfectly safe for people with no experience or skills.

Actual Dangers of Whitewater

In class VI and V rapids (and sometimes in class IV) there are quite a few river features that could kill you. There may be trees in the water (called strainers because water pours through but you do not) and hydraulics or holes (re-circulating current downstream of a rock, drop, or dam, that in some cases could hang onto a boat or a person and never let go). If you are not an expert who knows what these features look like and how to avoid them, you shouldn’t be on class IV or higher water.

Actually, you really shouldn’t be on whitewater at all without training and knowledge. Plenty of people float safely down class I, II, and even class III rivers on inner tubes, however. They’re usually okay as long as when they fall off their tubes, they don’t try to stand up in the river.

In class I, II, and III the most likely tragic outcome is the result of a foot entrapment, which occurs when someone tried to stand up in moving current. (There are other ways of dying in class one through three whitewater, too, such as not wearing a secured proper life jacket, improper clothing for the water temperature, and strainers.)

The riverbed is made up of rocks and the human foot is shaped just perfectly to get wedged between them, especially when that foot is moving with the current down stream, having flipped in a boat or fallen off an inner tube. (Yes, wading from the side of the river can be performed safely, however, with the right skills.) People have drowned in less than two feet of water in this way, called foot entrapment.

So, in case my talk of overcoming various fears made you feel like heading towards a river, I don’t mean to imply that whitewater is like a theme park ride where your safety is (supposedly) assured. If you are moved to challenge yourself on whitewater, consider taking a whitewater canoe or kayak class. And check out the American Canoe Association’s Top 10 Safety Tips. You can thank me later.

And now you may return to the world of dangers that exist mostly inside my head.

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