Heat raises concern for safer practicing of kayaking along the Yakima River

BY Joseph Bauman
Staff Reporter

The Yakima River is a popular attraction to many Central Washington University students, as well as locals. During the heat of summer, students find the river a relaxing way to cool down.

There are, at times, thousands of kayakers and rafters that float the river throughout the summer.

“The river is a huge part of our culture,” said Ryan Hopkins, coordinator for Outdoor Pursuits and Rentals.

However, when combined with poor decisions and failure to prepare, the river can be a dangerous place.  Just earlier this month, there was a report of a woman that would have drowned had it not been for two canoeists passing by. While not all dangers can be avoided, there are some that can be prepared for.

“It’s a great resource, but it’s something that needs to be respected,” Hopkins said.

Personal Flotation Devices and Gear

A personal flotation device can be the crucial factor in preserving one’s safety. Many people die annually due to the lack of proper gear. There have been situations in which people floating a river have come across a hazard where if they hadn’t been wearing a PFD, they would have surely drowned.  Also, proper footwear is highly recommended. Footwear that protects the soles of your feet ensures an easier transition to land when approaching shore.

Along with these items it is advisable that people floating the river bring along water, sunscreen and long sleeved shirts. The long duration of direct exposure to the sun commonly lead to dehydration and other heat related illnesses.

Familiarity

It is important for people planning to travel down the river to be familiar with the river’s course. This includes scouting for ideal put-in and take-out zones, any obstructions such as dams or spillways, and knowledge of the properties that run by the river.

Also, it is recommended to alert someone that you will be floating the river and when you expect to return.

Active Awareness 

The river’s path is an ever-changing environment. There are new obstructions and hazards located in the river each day. These hazards range from trees and other materials to increased water levels.  These obstructions can become an entrapment when combined with the rapid moving waters of the river.   Keeping a watchful eye on your surroundings and the course a head of you will keep any reasonable floater out of danger.

Alcohol

Alcohol, as with all impairing substances, hinders reaction time as well as levels of awareness. People floating down the river should be aware that if they choose to drink they run increased risks of becoming entrapped by one of the aforementioned hazards.

Be Prepared

Whatever the plan may be, it is always suggested that you prepare before proceeding to the river. Every April, the Ellensburg Memorial Pool, in a partnership with the Central, OPR hosts a public education event to help prevent drowning. They offer education that instructs the public about proper kayaking and rafting techniques.

Another source for safety information is the Outdoor Pursuits and Rentals office located at the CWU Recreation center. A large role that the OPR plays is to inform students about safe rafting and kayaking techniques. They strive to ensure that people enjoy floating the river responsibly.

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