Take Safety Serious for Winter Floats

Winter is a wonderful time for a float trip. With trees bare of leaves, you’ll be able to see features hidden away by summer’s foliage. Certain animals are more abundant, like the bald eagles who find their way south to open water. You’ll likely have any water you choose to paddle all to yourself. Providing peace and solitude not found amongst the crowds in warmer months. 

With solitude also comes danger. If you were experiencing trouble along your float, there may not be another person by for some time. You need to be prepared for the weather and any accident that may occur. 

Todd Robertson, Iowa DNR River Programs Water Trails Coordinator, said, “Many paddlers, especially those just starting out, don’t realize that although temperatures may be above average during some of the winter, the water is still dangerously cold and cold-water shock and hypothermia can set in quickly. Dress for the water temperature, not the air and expect to go into the water,” Robertson said. “A wet or dry suit and a life jacket are crucial to remain safe.”

There are many other tips to consider when heading out for a cold weather float trip, but the most important is don’t paddle alone. I understand the appeal of taking off on a solo adventure. I too appreciate time alone in the wilderness, but if you were to find yourself in a dangerous situation without another person with you, then there is no one to administer or seek assistance.   

You may think it is just a leisurely float on a calm river, but things can change quickly. You should always wear a life jacket. I know it may not be as comfortable to paddle wearing a life jacket, but if you are swept into a root wad or branches they could flip you over or knock you out of the boat. You could also hit your head on a rock. For your own sake, and for the sake of those who love you, just wear a life jacket. 

Be prepared for the worst. Pack a dry bag with an extra set of extra clothes. Also bring a first-aid kit and a fire starter. If your bag is big enough, stuff a compressible sleeping bag or blanket into it. Make sure you keep you cell phone protected in a water proof situation. This could be a small dry box where you also store your keys and wallet, or something as simple as putting it in a quality sandwich bag.

Never just take off without letting someone know where you are going and when you are expected to return. If something were to happen to you, and you don’t return by the expected date and time, it is more likely help will be sent to find you. If the person you are telling is not familiar with the water you’re going to float, show them on a map. Make sure they understand the route you plan to take. 

Floating rivers in the winter is a special experience. There is an incredible calm in the cold-weather setting. You see animals that would likely be hiding from the crowds in the summer, and although fish may be more lethargic in winter than summer, you should bring a fishing rod along, because smallmouth still need to eat. 

See you down the trail…

Brandon Butler

Pic: Winter is a great time to float as long as one is prepared for the dangers of cold weather and water.

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