In the state of Colorado, the issue of whether a landowner who owns the land adjacent to a river can prevent boaters from floating a river continues to be a flash point. Apparently, in Colorado, property owners believe they hold the rights all the way out to midstream. This, in spite of a Colorado law, clearly stating that river users have the right to navigate a stream as long as they don't trespass by stepping on the bank. Even so, some landowners have erected fences across waterways or strung neck-high wires, hired lawyers and, in some extreme cases, brandished weapons threatening river users who ignore the 'boundaries'.
A Colorado representative has introduced legislation that would amend the existing law to allow boaters to not only navigate waterways without fear of reprisal but step on the bank if necessary for safety reasons or utilitarian reasons. River runners everywhere should be interested in the development of this story because, it is conceivable, if Colorado landowners maintain their 18th century rights to a public resource, we are all losers.
A Washington woman drowned on the North Fork of the Payette this past summer due to what was surely a string of regrettable decisions. According to the news article, the 47-year old woman and her party of friends, launched on a section of the Payette that only highly skilled kayakers attempt and few or no commercial rafting companies. The article regarding the accident I found to be particularly educational unlike many new stories that typically accompany stories such as this one.
Here are some of the suggestions:
• Don't go alone. It's best to have two or three rafts or kayaks in a group. Outfitters run safety kayakers along with rafts on Class IV (advanced) sections of the South Fork of the Payette River.
• If you are still unsure of the river, ask for advice and information from other boaters at the launch site.
• Always wear a life jacket, even on non-whitewater rivers like the Boise River through Downtown Boise.
• Wear helmets when paddling whitewater and have good footwear that will take bumping on the rocks if you end up in the water.
• Don't overload your raft and make it difficult to maneuver.
• Make sure the raft is properly inflated. A soft raft is difficult to control.
• Don't drink. Rivers and alcohol don't mix.
• If you want to run a river that looks more difficult than your ability, go with an outfitter or other experts the first few times.
• Know how to swim rapids. Guides on outfitted trips give safety talks before they launch.
• Getting thrown from a raft is always a possibility on any moving water, even the Boise River. Immediately look for the raft and try to get to it. Don't get downstream of the raft because you can get caught between it and a rock or log.
• When swimming, lay on your back with your feet pointed downstream and do a backstroke. Your feet can be used to push off rocks or away from logs.
• To get out of the water quickly, do a backstroke at an angle against the current toward the bank. The angling action will move you faster toward the bank.
• Stay away from brushy banks where you can get trapped in overhanging limbs or logs.
• Never try to stand up in a fast-moving river. Your feet can be caught in rocks and you could be knocked down and the current could hold your body face-down under water.
I was relieved to see that the author of the news article included the safety precaution of always going boating with someone else if you are a kayaker, and to have a second raft, if you are a rafter. In the '80s, during the deposition-phase of the Methow River accident where the guide and a guest died, the defense attorneys for the outfitter, much to my astonishment, managed to find an Idaho Outfitters and Guide Association member who defended the one-boat trip from a safety standpoint. Apparently, Idaho boaters have come to their senses.
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