This Memorial Weekend I was reminded how simply precious life is. My daughter and me began our float on one of our favored stretches of the Henry’s Fork. Nothing on our minds but trout, high fives and smiles. But 4 bends into the float we came upon a sight that I wish upon no one to experience.
The river has given me life. I am passionate about it. But seeing the reality of what can happen is not easy.
I have many different emotions going through my mind. But all I can think of is just to tell all of you, my friends to take caution when on the water. You are at the mercy of the river at all times. Be prepared. Don’t take your safety lightly.
My heart goes out to the family that lost a member on a beautiful piece of water. I wish your day wouldn’t have ended the way it did. I wish I would have floated up sooner to help. Don’t let a day go by without telling the people you love, that you love them.
This is a article from Driftwood magazine on boat safety. Accidents will happen, but take every precaution to make sure they don’t.
“Driftwood Magazine – Drift Boat Buyer’s Guide
Drift Boat Safety
– Bob Ball
“MAKE SAFETY AS MUCH OF A MEASURE OF SUCCESS AS YOUR CATCH.
INCESSANT RAINS OF THE PAST WINTER SEASON COMPLETELY FOILED THE PLANNED FLOATS OF MANY STEELHEAD ANGLERS, AND MADE FOR MANY LAST-MINUTE RIVER SHIFTS FOR OTHERS. SWITCHING TO CLEANER WATERS SOMETIMES MEANT THAT THEY WERE MOVING TO UNFAMILIAR WATERS, OFTEN ALSO MORE TECHNICAL TO NAVIGATE FOR THE OARSMAN. IN MOST CASES, ALL WENT FINE AND MOST STORIES FILTERING THROUGH LOCAL WATERING HOLES INVOLVED BETTER FISH NUMBERS THIS SEASON FOR THOSE ANGLERS WHO HAD BRAVED THE ELEMENTS.
In far too many cases, however, tales spoke of partially or wholly sunk or flipped fishing craft. Personally, I watched three boats go down this past winter on the rivers that I fish and I know of at least a half-dozen more witnessed by others. Unfortunately, in nearly every case the mishap was caused by either poor planning or decision-making by the boat operator And likely should have been avoided.
Running drift boats, inflatable rafts or pontoon boats in fast, shallow rivers always carries some risk of mishap. New obstructions, such as a rotting tree falling into the water in a bad spot, unforeseeable equipment failure, or unexpected actions from passengers can doom any boat operator, regardless of Skill level.
I believe the most important rule for boat safety is to always maintain a balance of confidence and respect (controlled fear might be a better term) for the waters you navigate. Moving water is an incredibly powerful force, one that I think too many boaters tend to underestimate. As an Oarsman, your primary duty is overseeing the well being of the passengers. Making every decision relating to the boat’s movement with this thought in mind is a big step in making it home safely.
Safe boating starts with setting your boat up properly. Routine inspection, maintenance, and/or replacement of equipment are a must.You should replace oars or blades with signs of damage, especially those incorporating wood products that will eventually rot and fail.
For those running aluminum boats, proper bottom care should not be overlooked. Bare aluminum will stick to rocks. Routinely treating the bottom and chine with a coat of epoxy (such as Gluv-it or Coat-It) on a regular basis will allow the boat to slide off of some obstacles instead of getting stuck and perhaps letting the boat turn sideways to the current and rocks which is all too often the kiss of death in moving water.
Anchor system components should be examined as well. An anchor dropping in very fast water has led to the dumping of many boats. Personally, I choose an anchor release that requires my assistance to let anchor line out to almost eliminate this possibility.Those releases that that rely on springs or friction from the cleat to the anchor rope should be checked every single trip. Sometimes the biting edge of a cleat needs to be filed or a worn portion of the rope should Be cut off to prevent slippage.
Regardless of the style of anchor release, never tie a knot in your anchor rope and always keep a sharp knife easily accessible to cut the anchor line should it inadvertently drop in dangerous water. If it does, you want to be able to float free of it.
It goes without mentioning the importance of keeping a spare oar and oarlock, but I see plenty of boats without them and even for some that do carry them, they are so hard to get at, that they really wouldn’t do much good in an emergency situation anyhow. Keep your spares handy!
One other vital piece of equipment that many boaters overlook is having a lifeline (100 feet of half inch nylon would be a good choice) to throw to other boats as they pass to help you get to shore should something bad occur. In many situations, getting a rope to stranded boaters is one of the biggest obstacles to would-be rescuers.
PLANNING YOUR ROUTE
Not knowing the “path” through a rapid is perhaps the biggest cause of sinking a boat. Regardless of your rowing ability, the wrong choice of a river split or path through a rapid may put the boat in a predicament that no amount of rowing will get you out of.
While more rocks are exposed at lower flows, moderate to heavy flows can often present rowers with the greatest challenges since you are sometimes simply following the flow and there really isn’t the opportunity to move around much. In such instances, proper setup is vital as once you commit to a line, there might not be any opportunity to change your mind.
Blind corners in heavy water should always be provided a little extra respect. Blockages may not be apparent until it’s too late. Even the most experienced rowers look for places to “bail out” into eddies coming into blind sections and if none exist, scouting ahead is advised.
PRIDE – SWALLOW IT
It’s always better to be safe than sorry when dealing with the raw power of Mother Nature. No amount of bravado will get you Through some of the situations you may run across on some of the more technical sections of water.
When running new drifts, following other boats, or at the very least, asking the advice of others is always a sound choice. Don’t be afraid to ask! And if you’re unsure of your abilities, or of just how bad a trouble spot really is, don’t be afraid to walk or line the boat through such areas.
Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Having an understanding of water mechanics and its interaction with your boat is crucial. This doesn’t mean that you need to jump in a section of river that is beyond your ability level to learn. Even in the most benign of floats, there should be a few obstacles that you can practice moving around.
Adjust the weight around the boat according to the size of your fishing partners on a given day. Too much weight in the bow or stern and the boat will react far differently in river current than if the weight is evenly distributed.
If your occupants are unfamiliar with floating a river, give them a quick briefing of the dos and don’ts – such as not leaning over the side to rinse their hands just as you’re dropping into the most technical piece of water in a drift.
I also like to give new passengers some quick pointers on helping a bad situation. I often run inline (one passenger in front and behind) and let the person behind me know that should I ever lose an oar that I want them to stay seated and simply pass me the one that sits alongside us as I try to maintain control with the one I still have. Likewise, I coach them to listen to my instructions for leaning when needed to either pass over slightly submerged rocks or how to react when the boat does hang up a little, which is sometimes just a fact of life, especially under low flows.
They are always a smart choice and often times it is the law to at least have them on board depending on local rules regarding boat size and passenger age. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t Wear mine enough and I don’t always require my passengers to wear them. But they are always present and the youngsters don’t get a choice. It’s a personal choice for adults, but as inflatable floatation devices become more streamlined the excuses for not wearing them are quickly going away!
PLACID WATER POISONS
Letting your guard down in calm water can be just as risky as running a piece of Class III or IV water. Anytime the oars are dropped, even with the floating blades, you run the risk of the current pulling them down and jabbing into the rocks and either popping it out of the oarlock or in a worse case scenario, turning the boat over.
The role of oarsman should never be taken lightly and you must accept the fact you’re not going to fish a lot when you are in control of the boat. That is why it’s especially nice to give your fishing buddies a chance “on the sticks.” Fishing is fishing and success varies, but I always keep in the back of my mind that no matter how good the fishing may have been, if I make it home without mishap, then the day was a success.”
To all of you who are our friends here at ASO. We love you. Respect the water. Take care of your love ones. Be safe out there. Don’t take it lightly. But above all get out there. Live your lives. Live your adventure. Life is to short not to live it with the ones you love.
Thanks for loving us.