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.