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The River: how to keep yourself and your family safe

Locations: News Published

By Tami Suby

Special to The Sopris Sun

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Whenever my life feels out of balance
my first instinct is to get on the river. Over the past 19 years I
have floated over 15,000 miles of rivers — kayaking, raft-guiding
and doing swiftwater rescue/CPR training. The river feels like home
to me. However, I have seen and experienced some life-threatening
moments in those years.

Recently, I watched a woman lose
consciousness after two other boats with small children got surfed
and almost flipped in the ledge-hole (on-river left) at the kayak
park in Glenwood Springs. Incredibly, the woman was resuscitated by
five kayakers that got her to shore. They began CPR and revived her
before the paramedics arrived.

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A few days after that, a small raft was
wrapped on Tombstone rock and several commercial companies stopped to
help the private boaters try to save the raft.

Last summer I pulled two guys without
life jackets out of the Shoshone section on the Colorado River
because their Walmart raft flipped in a sizable hole. The list goes

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A little education can change a life.
If you are planning on spending time rafting or tubing down a river,
here are six essential rules:

1. Always wear a river life jacket, not
a water-skiing life jacket.

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Your river life jacket should fit
snugly and not pull up above your shoulders. Water skiing vests float
a person straight up and down, while river jackets have more
flotation on the chest to keep the feet up and help you swim with
your feet downstream. Wearing a river life jacket is the smartest
thing you can do for yourself and for those that might end up trying
to help you if you need it.

2. Know what you’re getting into.

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If someone wants to take you down the
river, ask questions. How many times have they run that section? What
Class river is it? What kind of boat do they have? How many years
have they been boating? If you’re uncertain as to whether the
person has sufficient experience and knowledge, do a commercial trip

3. Know where you are going and what
class of river you’ll be floating.

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Rivers are rated by difficulty. Class I
is still water (for example, Ruedi Reservoir). Class II is moving
water with small riffles. Class III has rapids with several options
to paddle through that are safe if you know how to read water. Small
holes (recirculating water), rocks, and other obstacles will be
present. You need some experience and training to navigate a raft
through Class III. Class IV has more extreme obstacles and much
larger consequences. If you fall out of the raft you must know how to
rescue yourself. Someone guiding Class IV should have plenty of
training and experience. Class V may have waterfalls, large
pour-overs (water recirculating over rocks) and other river features
that require expert guiding.

4. Think twice before bringing kids.

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If you have little experience on the
river, or with a certain section, leave the kids at home. In the last
year I have seen at least a dozen small children in rafts that were
in very dangerous situations on the Roaring Fork and Colorado Rivers.
My son is 6 and I now take him on mellow Class II with our ducky and
he sits with my husband or me.

5. Think three times before bringing
alcohol on a river trip.

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Bringing beer on the river when it is a
flat stretch is one thing. Bringing alcohol when you need to be
alert, smart and react quickly is something else. In general, mixing
alcohol with river sports is a bad idea.

6. Choose a mellow stretch for inner

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Make sure you follow all of the
instructions above, and be aware that you must add one degree of
difficulty to the classifications listed above if you are tubing.
(In other words, a Class III in a raft is really a Class IV in a

Some of the most quiet and serene
moments of my life have been on the river deep in the Grand Canyon;
some of my most thrilling and exhilarating moments have been right
here on the Slaughterhouse section of the Roaring Fork. I hope the
river can become a haven for you, too.

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