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Water Safety Along the Little Miami (and Surrounding Rivers) – Part Two

Today’s topic will be water safety gear, but first a PSA…

Floodwater is NOT Whitewater

We’ve all heard the awesome stories (or even lived them ourselves) about the instant rock-star status involved in running whitewater. Just you, your boat of choice, a helmet, life jacket and a prayer against the awesome power of the river! Hoo-rah! We’ve taken trips out to the New River, the Gauley or any of the hundreds of other whitewater rivers in the U.S. and come back with some great memories. Now you’re working again, kids have games and recitals, in-laws are visiting, and you really need a time-out. It rained really hard a few days ago and the river is up but the sun’s out now and you want some action. It only stands to reason that fast-moving water is fast-moving water, no matter where you go, right?

Wrong!

In whitewater, it’s just you and the river (and rocks.) With a flooded river, even the featureless albeit quick calm of anything above seven feet, you have to contend with uprooted trees, vegetation and other miscellaneous out-wash come down the banks with the rain. Furthermore, while the river may not initially tear up a grove of trees, if you find yourself on the water, it will carry you into said grove of trees. Roots and debris act as “strainers,” a collection of fallen branches or other vegetation which will catch a kayaker up while the river keeps them pinned. Needless to say, this isn’t a position anyone wants to be in, seasoned or fledgling. In addition to this, the river never loses steam. One cubic foot of moving water is roughly 69 lbs of pressure. If we go back to our original 1,700 CFS, that equates to 106,080 lbs of force per second that never stops pushing. As in almost every case, common sense will help you throughout the decision-making process. If it is beyond your comfort zone, either don’t do it or find someone who is better versed than you are in these matters to guide you.

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PFDs – What Floats your Boat?

One of the key components to water safety is the Personal Floatation Device (PFD), growing up, these were simply called life jackets. They came in bright orange, sandwiched their wearer between a huge layer of foam and made it short of impossible to move either your arms or torso. Luckily for the world of water sports, the PFD has seen a redesign and revitalization in the realms of mobility while still maintaining their safety. The U.S. Coast Guard provides the following table to showcase the classes of PFDs:

Type PFDs

Minimum Adult Buoyancy

in Pounds (Newtons)

I – Inflatable

33.0 (150)

I – Buoyant Foam or Kapok

22.0 (100)

II – Inflatable

33.0 (150)

II – Buoyant Foam or Kapok

15.5 (70)

III – Inflatable

22.0 (100)

III – Buoyant Foam

15.5 (70)

IV – Ring Buoys

16.5 (75)

IV – Boat Cushions

18.0 (82)

V – Hybrid Inflatables

22.0 (Fully inflated) (100)
7.5 (Deflated) (34)

V – Special Use Device – Inflatable

22.0 to 34.0 (100 to 155)

V – Special Use Device – Buoyant Foam

15.5 to 22.0 (70 to 100)

 

The human body is naturally buoyant, considering we are 65 to 75% water, and our bodyweight doesn’t apply in the water as much as you may believe. In the above chart, the weights are in addition to the buoyancy of our bodies. For instance, in the Little Miami, PFDs up to a Class III rating are sufficient.  According to the chart above, that is only an additional 15.5 to 20 lbs of buoyancy, how can that be? Think back to the days of summer when you were a kid. No matter how deep you tried to dive in the pool, it was harder and harder to reach the bottom. When you fill your lungs with air, you are literally turning yourself into a flotation device! We are designed to float from birth, the PFD just gives us a little more pick-up.

Foam vs. Inflatable

Reading the chart, one would be inclined to grab an inflatable. Inflatables are effective, but their one Achilles heel is leaking. In the Little Miami area, the river is full of jagged corners, sticks, rocks and other miscellaneous hazards that would present an issue to inflatables. Foam may break down over time but we’re talking decades, and it can take a beating the likes of which an inflatable would never survive. Choose which PFD you will, so long as you choose one and keep it on during your trek. We’ve seen, too often, the jacket strapped into the boat and that boat go floating away down a wave-train sans paddler. You don’t want to end up in this situation (again.)

Helmets!

For the love of all things wet, if we haven’t made the power of the river apparent by now, I’m not sure we can. It’s really simple; you wear a helmet for everything from rollerblading to cross-country motorcycle touring, why would you not do the same for kayaking/canoeing? Your skull can take anywhere from 15 to 170 lbs of force before it cracks, depending on where and how you are hit. How many pounds of force are in the river? Get the picture? Put a helmet on.

Part three: at the feet of the masters, click here

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