Cool off on a river float, but remember safety tips

June 28, 2012

By Sebastian Moraga

Rumor has it there’s a season in the year where the sun outmuscles the clouds and shines for more than once a week.

Were that rumor to come true, some rain-drenched, sun-starved Washingtonians will no doubt choose to spend their days tubing in one of the state’s rivers and lakes.

Don Martin, an experienced rescuer, river guide and owner of whitewater rafting company River Recreation, said rivers and lakes offer different advantages.

“The allure of rivers is that you’re traveling to a different section of river,” as you float, he said. A lake offers a calmer alternative, with not so much moving water. Washington state is full of lakes like that, he added.

Tyler Folkman, manager at Issaquah’s Sports Authority store, said most Eastside tubers prefer rivers.

“They go to the Snoqualmie, right under the falls or they go up to Cle Elum and do the Yakima River,” he said. Preferred lakes include Beaver Lake, Pine Lake and Lake Sammamish, he added.

Martin advised tubing only if you are at least 8 years old. For younger children, a Wild Waves-like place with a controlled environment may be better.

Tubes range in price from about $12 to about $200, Folkman said. A $200 tube comes with fabric on one side, so people can pack it with food and hook it up to the back of a boat.

Martin advised getting a heavier duty, more expensive tube.

“Some tubes are cheap and easily punctured,” he said. “It’s also better to have two chambers in a tube. In case one quote-unquote pops, you have a second chamber of flotation.”

Inflating a tube is easy, both said and done, Folkman said. Anything from a fancy air compressor to a bike pump to the big toothy hole under your nose can get the job done.

Vegging out atop an inflatable rubber doughnut may look like an outdoor version of being a couch potato.

But Martin said tubing, like anything that happens in a natural body of water, is fraught with risks.

“Any time that you’re in a river environment, it’s of foremost importance that everyone should be wearing a life jacket or a personal flotation device,” Martin said. “A PFD is your best defense against being on a bad situation on a river, but it’s not a guarantee that you can’t be put into a dangerous situation.”

Folkman said police check tubers on the Snoqualmie for life jackets.

Even slow portions of rivers can turn dangerous if one floats too far downstream. Spots like trees or logs or rocks dial up the danger considerably, he added.

“Anything that floats can be sucked into and under the log and kept underwater,” Martin said, adding that rivers are much more powerful than they seem, even in knee-deep water.

If caught in a dangerous situation in a river, he recommended keeping your head and feet out of the water, and go feet first downstream. Once past the turbulent area, roll over onto your stomach and aggressively swim to shore. Avoid any trees and, if possible, any rocks.

Lastly, he said it’s “highly suggested” to avoid drinking alcohol on the river. If you’re going to have a container of anything, make it one of sunscreen. Even so, remain careful. You never know with rivers.

“A lot of times, people get into a situation where they don’t understand the water dynamics,” Martin said. “And before they know it, they are in over their heads.”

Safety precautions

  • Wear a personal flotation device.
  • Do not use alcohol or drugs.
  • Watch children closely; stay close enough to reach them immediately.
  • Choose safer swimming options with lifeguards present, such as a beach, lake or pool.
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