Over the last five years (2008-2012), State Park’s Division of Boating and Waterways has received reports for 55 boating fatalities involving canoes, kayaks, rafts and rowboats. This represents 22 percent of the total boating fatalities during those years.
Below are some tips that rafters should follow to improve their chances of survival:
Avoid Alcohol. Using alcohol or drugs can make your judgment poor and slow your response time, and reduce your ability to respond to a dangerous incident. Drunken passengers can also lead to an unstable boat and are more likely to cause a capsizing or fall overboard.
Wear your life jacket. It is important for not only you to wear a life jacket, but for everyone on board the raft to wear one too. If you fall overboard, you will not be able to reach your life jacket and if someone does throw you one, putting one on in swift, deep water is next to impossible. There are many new styles that do not interfere with tan lines or rafting activities.
Natural Stressors. Beware of stressors in the river environment. There are many natural stressors that make boating unsafe. They can include boat motion, loud noises, and the heat and glare of the sun. Drugs and alcohol also affect your judgment, health and safety. So drink water, eat energy foods, get a lot of rest and take many breaks.
Designate a Watcher. Make sure that at least one passenger understands how to use safety equipment such as a throw bag (a safety rope inside a nylon bag), first aid kit, sunscreen and emergency sound devices. This person should be sober and be on the lookout for any dangers.
Properly Loading Boats. Do not overload your boat and keep weight evenly distributed throughout the boat. Keeping a low center of gravity inside the boat can aid in you losing your balance and falling overboard or capsizing the vessel.
Stay in your boat. Getting off the boat to swim alongside is tempting, but can be very dangerous. The current may look slow, but can be deceptively strong. Your vessel can easily drift so far from you that you cannot swim to it. The water is much colder than the air, which can lead to cramps when swimming.
Falling Overboard. If you do fall overboard hold onto the raft and float with it to the nearest landing. If you are not able to hold on, float downstream feet first to the nearest landing. This will enable you to fend off obstacles and prevent your feet from being wedged between rocks, which can trap you underneath the water. Never attempt to stand up in rapidly moving water unless it is too shallow for swimming.