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Safety tips for river recreation this summer

  • 5/16/2023 1:52:00 PM
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Iowa rivers will soon be busy with paddlers, swimmers, and people wading to search for fossils, rocks and driftwood or to clean up litter or explore a sandbar.

Rivers are dynamic systems that change with high flows and have obstacles hidden just beneath the water surface. Iowa rivers can have sudden drop-offs, holes, submerged shelves, foot holds and rock ledges. Current strength is often deceiving even for strong swimmers.

Follow these simple steps for a fun and safe summer on Iowa rivers:

  • Wear it! Always wear a properly fitted, personal flotation device (PFD). Make sure kids wear their life jackets before getting in the water. Most drowning victims in river incidents were not wearing a life jacket.
  • Become a proficient swimmer Swimming is a life-saving, life-long healthy activity that makes time near water enjoyable. If you haven’t swam in a long-time, refresh your abilities. And all ages—tots to elders—can learn to swim. Instructors make learning relaxing, especially for those who fear the water. Inquire at municipal pools, colleges or YMCA facilities or with a private instructor. All children should learn to swim with formal lessons.
  • Be alert. Using drugs or alcohol reduces judgment. Alcohol is a factor in more than half of drownings.
  • Avoid areas near dams. Avoid getting in the water – swimming, wading, or boating – near low-head dams. Unexpected “roller” currents at dams are related to an average of 1.5 river fatalities per year.
  • Stay clear of obstacles. Downed trees, common in rivers, can act like kitchen sink “strainers,” catching people and holding them in it. Other obstacles like bridge piers, scrap metal, or clusters of rocks or concrete can be hazardous in similar ways. Avoid wading in fast water. Look for known hazards that have been reported to DNR through their interactive river map at
  • Watch your kids. Constantly watch young children when swimming or playing near water. Drowning occurs quickly and quietly. Be close enough to touch the child at all times. Even in ankle deep water, the current can be strong enough to sweep you off your feet and out into deeper water.
  • Learn CPR CPR from a bystander is proven to save lives and improve outcomes for near-drownings. The quicker CPR begins, the better the results. In the time needed for paramedics to arrive, your CPR skills could save a life or prevent permanent damage. If already certified, learn the latest techniques and refresh your skills by recertifying. Inquire at your local hospital, workplace or doctor’s office for classes.