The Drowning Trap

The Drowning Trap

I thought I’d try to post this file again since Spring is coming early in many places.

My local river is running at/near record levels but it doesn’t really look unusual unless you’re familiar with it.


It would not give me access.


Sorry. Thanks for letting me know. I think it’s good information so I’m going to keep trying.

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Now I can see it and download. Thanks.

spring is the drowning season. High water and cold temperatures. Dress for immersion and wear a PFD. Practice rescues.

I posted because Robert Kauffmann’s work is the only information I’ve ever seen that tries to communicate the power of “normal” rivers (not in flood stage, not in winter). He studies river fatalities and uses “barrier analysis” to assess what additional barriers could be implemented to avoid repeating incidents. I attached another one of his presentations for anyone interested.

He points out that 80% of people think they can tell when a river is dangerous even when they can’t. This is painfully consistent with my experience with a local reporter that said “it doesn’t look too bad” a couple days after a drowning.

After thinking about it, I believe that the key missing barrier is often knowledge. One needs enough knowledge of your own abilities (paddling, swimming), your equipment’s abilities, and the river conditions to know whether you know what you are doing. Many paddlers are casual/infrequent paddlers so it’s easy to be surprised by the strength of a river.

Here are my local rivers this past week. They look pretty normal are near record levels and deserve a lot of respect.

I apologize if this sounds like advice. I wanted to share some educational material in case someone can use it. There’s no rule of thumb to help avoid incidents; every case is unique.

I will say that I tell 2 things to the neighborhood kids:

  1. the river is much more dangerous than it looks
  2. you have to be a strong swimmer before you can go canoeing with me

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When water is high several things happen. The velocity increases. The primary flood plain gets inundated. That means that the margins of the river are full of trees. Sometimes it will be willow thickets that grab oars and paddles. Sometimes it is will be large trees that are obstructions. They are especially dangerous on the outside of bends. High water will erode streambanks and cause some trees to fall in the water. Newly killed trees have large canopies that can act as sieves. The water can pass through, but you and your boat cannot.

All of these things are dangerous. Higher velocity means bigger hydraulics and pushier water. You have less to time to react. The consequnces of a mistake increase exponentially. Know the flow. Know the gradient. Know if the trend of the flow is up or down. Go in a group. Practice rescues before hand. Bring throw lines. Sometimes the smart thing is to stay home and wait.