Be safe, use proper gear when playing in the Yampa River this spring
Proper gear a must for spring, summer water outings
May 29, 2016
Steamboat Springs — With Memorial Day marking the unofficial start of summer, many Steamboat Springs residents and visitors may be dragging out their warm-weather toys, including kayaks, rafts and paddleboards — if they haven't already.
But before hitting the water, local emergency officials urge those recreating to review safety precautions and ensure proper gear is being used in the cold, fast-moving rivers and creeks in the region.
"Don't be afraid to go and have fun, but be smart," said Chris Welch, a fire engineer with Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue, who also teaches courses locally and around the world in swiftwater rescue through the Swiftwater Safety Institute.
"The best thing to do is to not put yourself in a bad situation," Welch said. "This time of the year, when the water is flowing faster and higher, we need to be more careful."
Welch said that, in addition to the Yampa River, several area creeks are running high this time of year and can pose a danger to young children who might be swept away.
Welch recommended that people who go into the water have some type of thermal protection in case they fall in, adding that people should always wear a high-quality personal flotation device.
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Assuming the water were 40 degrees, a good guess for this time of year, a person could face hypothermia after just seven to 10 minutes in the water, according to Welch and Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Chief Mel Stewart.
"In this water, it takes less than 10 minutes for someone to become hypothermic and not be able to help themselves," Stewart said.
In addition to proper protection from the cold, Stewart encourages people to have some river safety knowledge before heading onto the water.
"Be aware of the current, and know how to read the water," Stewart said. "We recommend that people stay out of the water if they don't have the training or equipment."
Stewart said the department usually receives two to four calls this time of year for potential water rescue situations, usually involving a bystander seeing a kayak or canoe that has been separated from its passenger.
If someone does fall into the water, Welch recommends self-rescuing, if possible, rather than waiting for help.
"The quicker you're out of the water, the better," he said.
While in the water, don't try to stand up, as the current can push a person back down, and stay away from items that water can pass through — such as logs in the current — but a human body cannot.
"We call that a strainer," Welch said.
To learn more about river safety, Welch suggested people take a swiftwater rescue class, which he said are taught each spring at Colorado Mountain College.