Umpqua River Water Safety

Published: 5/19/2017

On a hot summer’s day, the rivers in Douglas County can be an enjoyable place to spend time swimming, wading, and floating with family and friends. As with any other recreational activity, river recreation contains an element of risk and your fun can quickly turn to tragedy if you don’t know some of the “rules of the road”. The following information gives a brief overview of some of the safety and knowledge required before getting into the water. 

Even though the weather is warmer, the river water temperatures are cold enough to cause hypothermia, which can weaken even the strongest swimmer. The cold water causes people to fatigue much faster and can shut down body functions. It restricts blood flow to a person’s arms and legs and can also cause involuntary gasping, rapid breathing, dizziness and confusion – resulting in water inhalation and possible drowning. 

Wearing a life jacket is the most important thing you need to do before floating or boating. To make sure it fits well, test the life jacket in shallow water. If it fits properly and is correctly fastened, it should stay in place and not ride up or slip over your chin. To work best, life jackets must be worn with all straps, zippers, and ties properly fastened and any loose ends tucked away. To check the buoyancy, relax your body and let your head tilt back. Make sure your life jacket keeps your chin above water and that you can breathe easily. Please note: children 12 years of age and younger must wear a U.S Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times while boating or rafting.

Air mattresses and inner-tubes add to the fun of a day on the water, but their use requires safety precautions as well. Always keep in mind that air mattresses and inner-tubes are not boats but floatation devices that can be easily punctured. As such, they should never be substituted for life jackets. Their use should be confined to areas near shore. If you use an air mattress or inner-tube, always wear a life jacket.

Rapids on the Umpqua Rivers are continually changing. Each year there are new snags, stumps, and boulders that tumble throughout the river system. Immersed rocks roll and slide. Logs can be deposited anywhere during high water. As water levels recede, the river flowing around these objects can be hazardous.

Stay away from overhanging trees, submerged logs, and other obstacles that water flows through rather than around. You can be pinned against them, possibly under water, by the force of the current. Rocks along the shoreline and in the shallows can be very slippery. Be careful and take small, deliberate steps. Always wear some sort of foot protection designed for use in the water. Never attempt to stand up in fast moving water. Your foot could become entrapped between obstructions on the river bottom and the force of the moving water could pull your body under.

If you find yourself being swept through rock rapids, float downstream feet first with your toes pointed upward. Using your arms to backstroke, you can “steer” yourself through the rapid. This will enable you to fend off rocks and other obstacles, reducing the likelihood of head injuries and foot entrapment as you float through the rapid.

Before you dive, jump or swing into a swimming hole, common sense requires that you take a few safety precautions. Ask yourself:

Is the water too shallow?

Are there rocks or other submerged objects just below the surface?

Are other swimmers clear of the diving area?

For rope swings, be sure that the rope and the object the rope is tied to is strong enough to support you and that there is a safe path between you and the water.

We hope that you enjoy the summer and all the recreational activities that Douglas County has to offer. Play safe!