Wettest Months of the Year
By Scott Harvey
Greetings fellow club members,
Well It’s Arrived!
Winter Boating in the Northwest requires skill sets and safety precautions that do not necessarily challenge fair weather boaters during the warmer months. To begin with, you want to make sure that you are appropriately dressed for the cold conditions. This includes a good drysuit with no leaks or ripped gaskets. If your drysuit has either problem, get them repaired before heading to the river. Consider comfortable and loose fitting synthetic blend or wool clothing to wear inside your drysuit. Thick mil wetsuits will work out on the river during winter, but take it from me personally who’s boated for many years in a wetsuit - drysuits are a heck of a lot more comfortable and warmer!! Good fitting river shoes are a must. Neoprene gloves are a good idea to have along. I prefer the fingerless neoprene gloves. You still have dexterity with your fingers but your hands stay warm. I usually carry a thin neoprene skull cap to wear under my whitewater boating helmet. It's a real life saver when it’s really cold out. Also your safety river gear including your proper fitting class III or V type Coast Guard approved lifejacket designed with specifications for whitewater boating with a knife and whistle, a boating whitewater helmet and a thermos of coffee, tea or spiced cider. Warm liquids during the winter months can really give you that extra push when needed.
Other safety precautions or potential hazards that you need to pay attention to are the real time river flows or levels. Ask yourself, are the rivers trending upward with no accurate estimate of when it will crest? There are numerous online internet sites that keep track of real time river flows. Such as the USGS Current Streamflow Conditions for Oregon or Washington. NOAA Advance Hydrologic Prediction Service, WKCC’s Pat Welch’s river levels for Oregon or Washington, Dreamflows Daily Report or the State of Washington - Dept of Ecology Freshwater DataStream for the Washougal River or Wind River to name a few of the sites I use regularly. Keep track of freezing levels during winter is vital and the amount of predicted precipitation arriving through the night and during the day of your boating activity. Is there warm rain arriving and will this impact or amplify the melting process at the mid to upper snow level elevations? The US Dept of Commerce, NOAA’s, National Weather Service website offers a Base Reflectivity Echo Intensity Display Radar map that detects real time and up close precipitation amounts within the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. This has been a real game changer. Always be aware of potential river hazards such as sweepers and log jams in our Northwest Rivers! PDX-Kayaker on Facebook is a great place where boaters will post river hazards such as log jams that they’ve encountered. The Oregon State Marine Board website has a link for Obstructions. This link has a map and description of potentially dangerous obstructions that have been reported to them by other boaters.
All in all, the best course of action for winter boating when most of the regional rivers are flowing high or near flood stage is to err on the side of caution. Follow your gut instinct, your past river experiences, along with the data available at your finger tips. Ask experienced boaters for their input. If you’re following an upward trend on a specific river gauge and it looks like the flows might go over the handlebars, there’s a chance that it will. Step back, select a river that you’re comfortable with at higher flows or wait for another day when the flows are more in your comfort range.