Safety on the River

This time of year—that is, summer in the Northern Hemisphere—when the powers that be get concerned about river safety. For example, here’s an article from Friends of the River (“the voice of California’s rivers”) with a list:

• Tell someone where you are going, when you expect to return, and where to call if you don’t.
• NEVER BOAT ALONE.
• Wear a properly fitted Personal Flotation Device (PFD) at all times when you are in or near the river.
• Know early signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration in hot weather.
• Reduce threat of injury by wearing protective footwear and proper clothing.

… and so on.

But the Washington Post has an interactive article that has the lists beat. Apparently the Potomac River Gorge is “one of the deadliest stretches of whitewater in the eastern U.S.,” according to the National Parks Traveler, a website dedicated to covering the National Park System and the National Park Service on a daily basis. The message is this: “If you enter the river, you will die.”

Whoa.

The WaPo article—“The perils at Great Falls”—begins with a similar message:

THE RIVER CAN KILL — STAY OUT. That blunt warning greets visitors at Great Falls Park because subtlety hasn’t deterred people from illegally wading, swimming and diving into this treacherous slice of the Potomac.

Since 2001, 27 people have died in river accidents in the area, including three since June. Few wore life jackets.

The death toll is low in the raging falls, because the danger is obvious and few people venture there. More often, the river’s victims are people who came to hike, fish or swim and who disappeared after entering tame-looking water downstream.

Have a look at this fantastic interactive piece. From the seemingly 3D photo at the top with markers to click that explain the dynamics of the river, to maps, drawings, and other media explain the unseen dangers. From a science standpoint, it’s fascinating.

But the lessons here can be applied to any river, whether you know it well or not. Check it out!

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