Have you ever done something stupid on the river and just got plain lucky that you got away with it without killing yourself? I have. I was eager to begin floating as soon as I got my hands on a little 8 foot Buck’s Bags pontoon boat and I started floating the small brushy stretches of our local rivers that were choked with logs, low lying branches that whipped you in the face, and the occasional dam. The small pontoon boat was great but I soon added an inflatable kayak that I thought would be easier to hike into places like the Wenaha. I did many dumb things with both boats just from ignorance.
I pinned myself on a rock with the pontoon boat when I tried to sneak around a nasty looking rapid on the Powder River. It was at flood stage and I thought I could walk my boat through a flooded side channel. I was able to sneak around it but only after getting badly beaten up by rocks, brush, and getting stuck between my boat and a rock once. I made lots of poor decisions that day because I didn’t know any better.
Not long after the Powder River experience I thought it looked like fun to paddle my inflatable kayak over a small dam . . . in February . . . without a lifejacket. Let’s see, that is one, two, three bad decisions all in one. I now know that going over low head dams is NEVER a good idea and many people are drowned that way every year. After my inflatable kayak flipped over at the bottom of the dam, I was stuck in the back current under the dam for a bit. It was one of the few times in my life where I thought I was literally going to die.
Luckily my lack of knowledge about boating and whitewater did not kill me early on. One thing that would have been really helpful in the early stages would have been a Swiftwater Rescue Course. These courses educate you not only about hazards on the river that you should avoid (dams!, strainers, sweepers, etc.) but train you how to get yourself and other people out of bad situations. These courses will save lives and make everyone better, safer boaters. If I had it to do over again I would have taken one of these courses before I started boating.
We are hosting a swiftwater rescue course here in eastern Oregon at Minam at the end of this month. If you are a boater and haven’t taken one of these courses, I can say from personal experience that you will learn a lot. The course will be 3 days long and participants will receive a certification at the end of the course for any whitewater guides or rescue personnel that need to keep their certificates current. The first four hours will be a classroom session open to the public. If you have any interest please check out our swiftwater rescue page here for more information.