Author: Trouts Staff
Scott Willoughby, outdoor collumnest for the Denver Post, had a very well though out article in todays paper. Entitled, River Guides Need Training, Mr. Willoughby stresses the importance of being properly prepared before venturing out on our states swollen rivers, particulalry if you're novice oarsman.
If you'll pardon the ripoff of an old snowboarding joke — What do you call a snowboarder after one week? Instructor. — the parallel among a growing number of boat owners in Colorado can be just as funny. Or scary, depending on your perspective.
It doesn't take much more than a credit card to become a boater in Colorado. There's no license or registration for river rafting, no insurance or expertise required. And based on a glimpse of the rivers these days, you would never know the economy was in the tank.
Whether it's reformed river guides such as myself or merely those interested in improving their access to fish by floating over them, private boaters are increasingly evident on local waters. And many of them have the dubious distinction of being self-taught.
That's all well and good, if you can get away with it. But a river is a place where bad things happen in a hurry. And the closest substitute for experience is training. You're always better off with both.
With snowmelt-swollen rivers quickly rising in the high country, it's time for the annual assessment of gear, skills and fitness.
The best thing that any boater can do for himself or herself and any potential passengers is to sign up with a local outfitter to take part in a guide-training program. Almost every rafting company in Colorado will conduct classes this spring for new guides in training. It's an investment of both time and money, especially if you don't ever intend to guide, but it's worth the return in knowledge, safety and peace of mind. And there are worse ways to make a buck than floating down a river.
A swiftwater rescue course (and basic CPR/first aid), if not part of the training curriculum, should be considered mandatory among river users as well. There are several on the calendar this time of year, many listed on the local boating website Mountainbuzz.com.
Maybe the best advice generated from a training course is to start small. Even if you know what you're doing, a new season always brings a few surprises. Whether it's a leaky valve that's making the flaccid raft slow and sluggish or flabby shoulders that caused you to miss the takeout eddy, a flat, forgiving river is a better place for the shakedown cruise than a high-water maelstrom.
It's a good idea to tighten your frame, patch the holes, examine oars and replace frayed ropes before leaping into Class IV.
A checklist of proper gear beyond a well- stocked cooler will also serve every boater well. That means U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vests, a proper repair kit, a few good bags of rope, pin kits, flip lines, spare oars (and tethers), first aid and, maybe most important, proper cold-water attire.
Cold is the real killer on Colorado rivers, especially during high water when flipping and falling overboard are very realistic risks. Everyone on the water should be dressed for swimming, not in bathing suits, but in neoprene wetsuits or dry suits with sealed gaskets and warm, synthetic layers underneath. Stiff-soled shoes and neoprene socks (or booties) are mandatory, and a helmet is never a bad idea in big water.
The ultimate tool in every boater's arsenal, though, is understanding your ability level. Just because you've been in your buddy's raft, doesn't mean you know how to row it.
Boaters should familiarize themselves with river gages and characteristics of the stretches they plan to float at various water levels. Check with rangers, local outfitters and Web forums for updated conditions and potential increases in flows, rain and dam releases.
Then act like a real river guide and do something smart. Even if that means staying home.
Scott Willoughby: 303-954-1993 or firstname.lastname@example.org
I would personally like to thank Mr. Willoughby for taking the time to write this article. Private boaters have every right to be on the water, but it is also everybodies repsonsibility to be prepared and able to navigate a boat down a river. Proper education and humility need to start becoming a necessity, and not an after thought.