Category Archives: Safety

Iowa Sunset to Sunrise Paddling Regulations: Visibility

Manually Powered Vessels When Underway:

(Manually powered vessels are boats that are paddled, poled, or rowed)

  • If less than 23.0 feet long, these vessels should exhibit a white light visible for 360° around the horizon and visible from a distance of at least one mile away if operating on natural lakes, Corps of Engineers impoundments, border rivers, or impoundments on inland rivers.
  • If this light is partially obscured due to the nature of the vessel, an additional white light must be on hand to be shown in sufficient time to prevent a collision.
  • Regardless of length, these vessels must have on board a white light to be used when necessary between sunset and sunrise when operated on bodies of water other than those listed above.
  • To prevent a collision, vessel operators should never leave shore without a flashlight. Even if you plan to return before dark, unforeseen developments might delay your return past nightfall.

 

    All Vessels When Not Underway:

    • All vessels are required to display a white light visible for 360° around the horizon whenever they are moored or anchored outside a designated mooring area between sunset and sunrise.
    For more info:

    Iowa PFD (Personal Flotation Device) Regulations:

    • All vessels must have at least one USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD (life jacket) for each person on board.
    • In addition to the above requirement, one Type IV (throwable) USCG-approved PFD must be on board vessels 16 feet or longer, except canoes or kayaks.
    • All PFDs must be in good and serviceable condition.
    • All PFDs must be readily accessible and of the proper size for the intended wearer. Sizing for PFDs is based on body weight and chest size.
    • While underway on a recreational vessel on any Iowa waters, a child under 13 years old must wear a USCG-approved life jacket unless the child is below deck or in an enclosed cabin.
    • Each person being towed behind a vessel on water skis, a surfboard, or similar device must wear a USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD. Inflatable PFDs are not approved for persons being towed.
    • Each person on board a personal watercraft (PWC) must wear a USCG-approved Type I, II, III, or V PFD. Inflatable PFDs are not approved for use on PWCs.
    • Windsurfers are not required to wear a life jacket.
    • Inflatable life jackets are not approved for use by persons under the age of 16.

    Read and follow the label restrictions on all PFDs

    For more info: http://publications.iowa.gov/15950/1/ia_handbook_entire.pdf

    Stay Safe This Paddling Season

    As Iowans start to thaw out from a brutal winter, paddlers and other boaters are itching to hit the water.  While some river levels have dropped, others remain high and unsafe.

    The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recommends that paddlers wait for warmer weather to let the water temperatures rise slowly. It could be several weeks before water temperatures are ideal and safe.

    “Regardless of how warm the air may feel in first weeks of spring, the water is still dangerously cold and can be deadly to boaters,” said Todd Robertson, Iowa DNR River Programs Water Trails coordinator.  “Cold water shock and hypothermia can set in fast if you are not dressed for cold water immersion. “

    After snowmelt and heavy rains, water levels can rise quickly and produce strong and fast current. “Strainers” are numerous on most rivers, especially after high water events. A “strainer” can be a pile of tree limbs and debris, usually found on the outside of river bends where they continue to collect and pile up. The river’s current can suck you under a deadly “strainer” and hold you underwater with little chance of escape.

    Review these simple safety tips before you head out on the water.

    • Check your canoe or kayak for any needed repairs or maintenance after being stored for several months. Look for holes and leaks, make sure all hatch lids fit snug and securely and check your paddle blades for signs of cracking or splitting.
    • Dust off your life jacket and make sure all buckles and zippers work properly and look for holes and tears. Replace the life jacket if it has damage that cannot be repaired. Wear a life jacket at all times while on the water, regardless of your swimming ability. “We encourage all boaters to wear their lifejackets and not just store them on board. When you need it, it won’t be there,” said Robertson. “Put the lifejacket on, if not for you, for the ones you love.”
    • If paddling in colder conditions, wear a wetsuit or dry suit, along with layers, to help avoid hypothermia or cold water shock. Do not wear cotton. Dress for water immersion, not the air temperature. You can adjust your clothing needs as the water heats up over the next several weeks.
    • Always bring along a dry bag with a set of extra clothes you can change into if you get wet, a first-aid kit and a protected cell phone or weather radio. Pack plenty of water to stay hydrated.
    • Let a friend or loved one know where you are going and when you are expected to return. It will be easier to find you if you need help.

    Explore the Iowa DNR’s interactive paddling map at https://www.iowadnr.gov/Things-to-Do/Canoeing-Kayaking/Where-to-Paddle to help you plan your first paddling trip this year.

    Dam Mitigations All Around Iowa

    Sure. You may be delighted those frigid temperatures are a thing of the past. But in a wet year, the low temperatures from January through March kept water levels low enough in rivers around Iowa to get contractors moving on dam removal and mitigation projects statewide. These projects were each years in the making, and the latest wave of them will change how Iowans recreate and navigate. Here’s a run-down:

    Ames

    https://www.cityofames.org/government/departments-divisions-i-z/water-pollution-control/construction-projects/north-river-valley-low-head-dam

    This project replaces the River Valley Park Dam with a divided channel, half for whitewater waves and half for fishing and fish passage. It also preserves the dams water supply function.

     

    Fort Dodge (2 dams)

    Little Dam (also called Lower Dam) was removed in February, completing the project. Paddlers can safety float from the Phinney Park Access on Lizard Creek down to Dolliver State Park unimpeded, and fish can move freely as needed as far upriver to the remaining portion of Hydroelectric Dam. A rocky bed was uncovered in this area.

    Hydroelectric Dam, formerly a 16-high dam, is removed down to a few feet high through summer, when it is expected to be completely removed. The removal is staged into 2 steps in order to prevent all sediment in the impoundment from being released at the same time. HOWEVER, recirculating currents will continue to be a safety hazard remaining portion of the dam until the dam is fully removed because the dam’s height will still be about 5 feet. All boaters should avoid the stretch between the Hydroelectric Park Access and mouth of Lizard Creek until the rest of the dam can be removed – most likely later this summer.

    Speaking of that first stage of removal, check out this time lapse video:

    https://www.facebook.com/115815355132446/videos/349587482317072/

     

    Quaker Mill Dam

    Phase 2 of the project was completed this winter and the Maquoketa River takes a meandering course through the former bed of the Quaker Mill Pond.

     

    Littleton Dam

    The Littleton Dam on the Wapsipinicon River is completely removed. High water after ice-out prevented completion of the rock arch rapids that will take the place of the dam, and contractors will resume work after flows are reasonable for work to be done.

    River Reading: Hazards and Obstacles: What to do?

     

    Photo: Maquoketa River Water Trail: Whitewater feature

    There are many hazards and obstacles in the rivers we paddle and it is essential you become proficient in your river reading skills if you plan to spend time on the water. Striving to be a learner will help keep you and others safe. Here are a few of the hazards and obstacles you may encounter on a typical river trip.

    Obstacles/Hazards:

    Low-head dam:
    You can be trapped in a hydraulic and unable to escape. If trapped, try to dive below the surface when the downstream current is flowing beneath the reversal. These low head dam hydraulics are called “drowning machines”. ALWAYS portage around them. When planning a trip, know what hazard features exist on the stretch you paddle.

    High water:
    High water can exist when a river narrows or when recent rain has increased the current flow and depth. Consider these conditions before making the decision to paddle as an individual, even if the trip leader decides to paddle under these conditions. YOU are responsible for your own decision to make the trip. Knowing what is happening up or down stream can also be important.

    Strainer:
    Anything that blocks passage, but allows water to flow through. These items can be brush or fallen trees, bridge pilings, or undercut rocks. They can allow the river current to sweep through and can cause capsize and/or pinning or can hold you under the water trapping you. Avoid these obstacles and be able to know and have the paddle skills to avoid these. Allow enough space to pass by the obstacle safely as the hydraulic may pull you in closer.

    Sweeper:
    branches hanging low over or into water that can sweep a paddler from the boat. Avoid these when paddling and refrain from reaching out to grab them when passing by.

    Broaching/Pinning: When a boat is pushed sideways against a rock, bridge structure, or other hazard by a strong current. It may collapse and wrap around you and trap you inside your boat.This is especially true for kayaks. To avoid pinning, it is best to throw your weight downstream towards the rock or hazard.This may allow the current to slide underneath your boat hull. “Love and lean” toward the obstacle, typically, that is facing downstream. It allows water under your vessel to help dislodge it.

    If you capsize:

    Try to hold onto your boat if possible by keeping your boat in front of you, (heading down river). Never allow the boat behind you or the weight and current pushing on you can cause safety issues such as pinning, foot entrapment, broken bones, etc.
    If you can not hold onto your boat, LET GO!

    Do NOT ever try to stand up in fast moving current. Stay floating on your back with your feet held high and pointed downstream and try to navigate to shore. You may need to swim at times to avoid obstacles.If you try to stand, it is possible for your foot to become trapped in an underwater obstacle causing a pinning hazard that can result in drowning. Only stand up in moving water if it is shallow (less than knee deep) or in “slow” moving water.
    Other paddlers should try to help get your boat and gear for you.
    Bilge or drain the water from your vessel.
    Change clothes from your dry bag supplies.

    Learn rescue and other life saving techniques:

    Learn self rescue and two person rescue techniques.
    Learn how to use a “paddle float” and bring it on trips
    Learn how to throw a “throw bag”, then bring it on paddle trips. It could save a life.
    Take a class, attend a pool session.
    Watching YouTube rescue technique videos can help increase skill level.
    Learn to be a competent swimmer.
    Take a CPR and first aid class.

    When helping another paddler, help in this priority order:

    Help paddler first.
    Locate paddle.
    Try to catch boat floating downstream, or pull to shore if possible and remove water by bilge pumping out or turning upside down over your kayak or on shore.
    Locating lost gear is last priority.

    Please note: the information, terms, and misc information was sourced through assorted publications, various online sites, assorted DNR brochures, “Paddling Iowa” by Nate Hoogeveen, www.paddling.com, and extensive readings.

    Paddling Verbiage

    Kayak and Paddle Terms: 

    Stern: the back portion of the boat
    Bow: the front of the boat
    Cockpit: the opening where you sit
    Deck: top of the boat
    Foot braces: pedals or ridges feet rest on
    Blade: the flat section of the paddle
    Tip: the end of your paddle
    Shaft: the section between the blades of your paddle
    Powerface: the side of the blade catching the water on your paddle
    Backface: side opposite the powerface

    Safety Gear:

    PFD: personal flotation device (lifejacket): is a piece of equipment designed to assist a wearer to keep afloat in water. It is required by law to be in your boat.
    Paddle float: a paddle float may be used for re-entry into a kayak after a capsize in open water.
    Throw bag: a throw bag or throw line is a rescue device with a length of rope stuffed loosely into a bag so it can come out through the top when the bag is thrown to a swimmer. A throw bag is standard rescue equipment for kayaking and other outdoor river recreational activities.
    Bilge Pump: a pump to remove water out of a vessel
    Whistle: attach it to your PFD. One blast is for attention; three blasts is “help.” (SOS)
    Helmet: good for use when play boating or surfing waves or when flipping is possible
    Knife: for use during river paddling where the danger of entanglement can be very real, it makes sense to carry a sheath knife on your PFD.
    Tow rope: tow system is great to have when boating with kids or inexperienced paddlers who may become fatigued during long paddles.

    River Features:

    Eddyline– boundary between the circular eddy and the downward current flow.
    Eddy: water rushing around obstacles, circulating downstream, towards shore in a reverse current. Current flows to fill void created by flow of water. It can be a good location to get out of the rivers current to take a break or to wait for others.
    Ledge drop: any drop-off where the depth of the bottom goes from shallow to deep in a short distance. It can be caused from a former dam site.
    Volume: the volume of a river is measured in cubic feet per second (cfs). Cfs is determined by calculating the number of cubic feet of water that passes a single point on a river over the course of a second.
    Pillow: pillows are created when water hits a rock head on and folds back on itself creating a cushion like bumper against the face of the rock wall.
    Riffle: the riffles of rivers tend to be where water is shallow and the current is strong. A riffle is a rocky, shallow area in a stream where water cascading over rocks creates a noticeable surface disturbance.To identify a riffle, look for a choppy surface or whitewater spilling over shallow rocks into deeper water.
    Friendly V: a V pattern in the river that points away from you. It is a good path to take.
    Unfriendly V: a V pattern that points toward you warns of an obstruction, avoid this.
    Gradient: the steepness of the river bed, expressed in feet per mile.
    if less than 2 feet: slow river, few riffles ( can paddle 3 miles per hour)
    over 5 feet, expect fast water and riffles

    Please note: the information, terms, and misc information was sourced through assorted publications, various online sites, assorted DNR brochures,”Paddling Iowa” by Nate Hoogeveen, www.paddling.com, and extensive readings.

    Littleton Dam removal on the Wapsipinicon River may create hazardous ice conditions

    MEDIA CONTACT: Todd Robertson, Iowa DNR River Programs Outreach Coordinator at 515-243-3714.

    LITTLETON, Iowa — A construction project on the Wapsipinicon River in Buchanan County to replace the Littleton Dam with a rapids, may create hazardous ice conditions on the river upstream. Work is expected to start on Monday, Feb. 11th.

    Snowmobilers, ice anglers, and any other use of the Wapsipinicon River should avoid the area from the Cutshall Access to the Littleton Dam.

    The first step of the project removes the dam, which lowers the water level supporting the ice by about five feet. The ice may appear to be stable, but may have several feet of empty space below it and collapse unpredictably.

    “This is a temporary, but hazardous condition,” said Todd Robertson, River Programs Outreach Coordinator for the Iowa DNR. “The water level will go back up as the rapids are built, but ice probably won’t be around anymore by then.”

    The rapids will be built so the water will pool to about the same level as it was before. Nine fatalities have occurred in the Littleton Dam’s dangerous currents since it was built.