Water Safety Tips from the Source
Published May 15, 2020
Whether you’re a water hound or new to the Blue, chances are you are itching to get outdoors and spend some time on the water.
Silverthorne offers an array of great options for recreating on the water, and since May is National Water Safety Month, now is an excellent time to review critical safety considerations before you and your family take to the water.
We caught up with swift water rescue technician Brandon Ciullo, a multi-year veteran for the Summit County Water Rescue Team and Summit County Rescue Group. For as many formal water rescue calls Cuillo has received, he estimates that he’s conducted three times more unofficial, personal rescues while out on the water recreating in his free time. He stresses the importance of brushing up on water safety, including these top tips:
- Stay away from the edge. One of the biggest dangers with a river is its bank, and the rushing water that’s eroding the land underneath that ledge. It acts like a cornice with just two to three inches of grass with water moving underneath it. People fall in by walking to the edge of the water, and when that edge releases, they get swept down.
- Get out as soon as possible. If you fall into swift moving water, Brandon says to remember “nose and toes.” Put your feet downriver, toes up, and head up, so that you’re traveling down river feet first. Angle your body toward the river bank, kick your feet hard, and backstroke toward dry land. Don’t try to stand.
- Dress for the water, not the air. It may be a 70 degree day, but the water is another story. This applies to not only swift moving water, but a day on the Dillon Reservoir too. Cold water can put you into shock, and motor skills can deplenish in minutes. Drowning and cardiac arrest are real threats that should not be taken lightly. The Swift Water Safety Institute offers a good checklist including a wetsuit, moisture wicking base layer, shoes with grippy soles, and a dry bag with a change of clothes inside.
- Check the flow and be aware of variability. A lot of attention is given to snowpack, but the river’s flow really depends on temperature. It’s important to always check daily reports for CFS (cubic feet per second). Brandon recommends americanwhitewater.org, but he cautions that those are just daily reports. Variable temperatures and tributaries flowing in at different points along a particular route can mean big swings in flow at any given time.
- Now is not the time to take chances. Swift moving water is dangerous and should always be approached with caution. But now, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is not the time to clog up rescue and hospital resources. Be safe on the water and do your part to avoid getting in a situation that requires emergency medical resources.
- Stick with the experts. Go with a guide, use the guide’s equipment, and wear a personal flotation device (PFD). Many of the rescues Brandon has witnessed happened due to a lack of experience, and appropriate equipment.
- Don’t go alone. Winter backcountry recommendations apply on the water too. Even if you’re a seasoned veteran, and especially if you’re on a section of water that you’re not familiar with, scout it with friends first. Brandon has seen things go wrong even with highly experienced rafters, and reminds the community that you’re not just putting yourself at risk, but also those who come to your aid.
During this time when pools are closed and swimming lessons have been canceled for the near future, the Silverthorne Recreation Center and its aquatics staff encourage the community to be especially vigilant recreating in outdoor bodies of water. Visit the Silverthorne Recreation Center website for information including water safety resources and at home water safety instructions for kids from the American Red Cross.