Water Safety Month: Is your equipment river-ready?
Chances are when you’re paddling down a river surrounded by family, friends, and spectacular scenery, the last thing on your mind is the inherent danger water activities can ensue.
If canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and fishing are part of your plans to celebrate Memorial Day weekend, you should double check to be sure your equipment is ready for your opening day on the water.
May is “Water Safety Month” set up by organizations throughout the United States as a reminder that drowning is the number one leading cause of unintentional death in the national parks, according to Susie Kaspar, National Park Service Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River ranger and Division of Interpretation educator. Kaspar is one of the organizers of WEAR IT!” Swimming, Fishing, Boating, Floating, an iconic local water safety campaign established in 2011 in response to five drowning fatalities that year along the Upper Delaware River on property managed by the National Park Service. WEAR IT is a collaboration between multiple organizations including Upper Delaware’s Water Safety Committee, the www.upperdelawarecouncil.org based in Narrowsburg, New York, the National Canoe Safety Patrol, and many other local canoe liveries and businesses in the Upper Delaware River Valley.
Who’s most at risk?
Statistics gathered by the National Park Service reveal that males between the age of 18 and 64 were among the majority of victims who drowned on the park service land in 2011.
Kaspar said, “National parks can be a dangerous environment and that drowning is one of those tragedies that can happen when you’re having a great time and not paying attention to your friends.”
She also noted the majority of those drowning deaths did not occur while the victims were boating but rather while swimming in the unpredictable waters of the Delaware River, where levels can fluctuate from a foot of water to a ten-foot hole in just a couple of steps. Park visitors should use their common sense and judgment while utilizing the 73.4 miles of water and wild terrain along the Upper Delaware, Kaspar advises.
“They may have been canoeing but they pulled off the river to take a break and they wanted to jump in to swim. We said we needed to focus on people swimming without a life jacket. Any death in a national park is a concern, but moving water is dangerous even when the conditions appear calm and placid in certain areas.”
A life jacket is the single-most important piece of equipment you should have with you in the water at all times but not the ratty, old jacket you’ve used for years. Life jackets that have been altered in any way or have holes or tears won’t go the extra mile to save your life if your boat tips. Nor will stashing it out of reach in your vessel or raft. Children 12 and younger must wear them but adults are only required to have a life jacket with them and it must accessible.
River users, including anglers, are required to wear a properly-fitted life jacket from Nov. 1 to April 30 but anglers are also encouraged to wear one anytime they’re wading. Kaspar explained one of the hazards river users face is “Foot Entrapment,” a phenomenon the park service notes occurs when one’s foot becomes wedged in between a rock and the force of the water results in thousands of pounds of pressure that can actually push them face down in the water. Kaspar said the best way to avoid foot entrapment is to never stand up in moving water above your knee, float on your back feet first to fend off rocks, and steer yourself towards shore with your arms.
“The Delaware River offers one of the best world-class trout waters in the United States and people come to experience this world-class river from all over the country. They know we’re one of the best trout waters in the country,” she said.
If upon your arrival at Upper Delaware you discover you’ve forgotten your life jacket or it’s not up to standards, rangers will provide you with a loaner (during peak summer months) at four different river access points deemed most busy along the river. The Loaner Life Jacket Program is based on availability and should not be relied on but thanks to grant money awarded since the formation of the Water Safety Campaign in 2011, the loaner program has significantly expanded.
Safety Tips You Should Follow
- Wear your life jacket. If you don’t wear it, sit on it. Always keep your life jacket within arm’s reach. They can’t be tied down to your boat.
- If your vessel tips, make sure you are floating on your back and keep your feet pointed straight up in the air to avoid foot entrapment.
- Wear appropriate footwear, sandals or flip-flops are not sufficient. Old sneakers or river shoes are the most appropriate.
- Be sure your life jacket fits snuggly. What size should I wear? The United States Coast Guard answers your questions about life jackets here but each approved life jacket has a clearly marked label describing who it fits.
- Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Don’t go out alone. (Let your family know where you’ll be and when to expect your return home).
- Wear sunscreen. The sun reflects up from the water and will cause sunburned even if you’re out for a few short hours.
- Make sure you have your medication with you before leaving for your trip. A brief boating trip can turn into a much longer time depending on water levels and conditions. Be sure you have what you need to get through those times.
- Check your equipment to be sure your raft and boat are free of holes.
- If your boat flips over, (and hopefully, you’re wearing that life preserver) don’t worry about any of your equipment. Save yourself and whoever you’re with first.
- Stay away from your boat if it tips. A canoe filled with water is equivalent to thousands of pounds of pressure in front of the boat. If you’re stuck between the boat and a rock, for example, you will be crushed.
- Stash your cell phone, keys, and other important belongings in a Waterproof Gear Bags.
Once you’re ready to embark on your boating adventure, Kaspar says, “Go out there and have fun but really use your common sense, People tip over all the time and it’s very easy to get in trouble, especially if you’re not wearing a life jacket.”
Follow the link to watch Dave Kuharchik’s interview with Susie Kaspar on PA Live: http://www.pahomepage.com/lifestyle/pa-live/pa-live-life-jacket-safety-may-18-2018/1190580773.
Fact: The Delaware River is the most paddled stretch of river in the world based on the National Park Service’s visitation statistics.
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