Incidents Stress Importance of Boater Safety on the Snake River

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NPS 8-21-20

Grand Teton National Park staff have been extremely busy with several search and rescue operations on the Snake River in recent weeks. All boaters are encouraged to know their skill level and wear a personal floatation device (PFD) while recreating on the river.

Park staff have responded to eight incidents in the last month, specifically in the Bar BC area of the river. In addition, there have been several incidents that resulted in capsized or pinned vessels that were resolved with the assistance of partners or by private boaters without the help of park personnel. The outcomes of these incidents have been favorable, but several close calls occurred. The park recognizes and appreciates the efforts of concessionaire river guides and fellow boaters that lent a hand as their efforts likely saved the lives of those they helped.

When floating the Snake River, it is vitally important that boaters know their skill level. Almost all recent incidents on the river have occurred in the Deadmans Bar to Moose Landing section, specifically in the Bar BC area. This is the most accident-prone river section in Grand Teton. The river drops more steeply here and the current increases. Only boaters with advanced skill levels should attempt this section due to the braided nature of the river, swift water, and midstream obstructions from log jams. Several people have had their vessels submerged by or have been tangled up in these midstream log jams because they were boating outside their skill level. These instances can prove extremely dangerous and even fatal.

Recent incidents have also involved boaters who were making last-minute decisions. The river requires the ability to efficiently maneuver over tight quarters and anticipate routes well in advance. Sight lines are short and channel options that existed hours before may be blocked. Boat operators may need to stop the boat to scout and choose an appropriate route. Those recreating on the Snake River should understand their skill level and consider avoiding the more challenging sections if unprepared.

The use of personal floatation devices (PFDs) saved lives in recent incidents. During one of these incidents, both occupants of the boat hit a log jam and fell into the water. They were swept under the log jam, resurfaced, and were swept under a second time. One of the individuals stated, “the life jacket saved my life.” Boaters may feel comfortable in the water and with their swimming abilities, but with cold water temperatures and fast-moving water, fatigue can quickly set in. All boaters are required to have a U.S. Coast Guard approved PFD of the appropriate size for each person on board. PFDs must be readily accessible and in good working condition. PFDs should be worn at all times while boating. All passengers age 12 and under are required to wear a PFD whenever a vessel is underway.

In addition to knowing one’s skill level and wearing a PFD, boaters should also check the weather forecast the day they plan to float the river. Once launched, it is difficult to turn back. Mountain weather is often dynamic and changes quickly.

Boaters are also reminded to tell someone where they are going and when they plan to return. If an accident or injury occurs, this information could prove vital if a rescue is necessary.

On Tuesday, September 1, Pacific Creek Landing, located just north of the Moran area, will be temporarily closed to all river users and visitors during construction activities this fall and possibly into spring 2021. The National Park Service and Grand Teton National Park Foundation are working in partnership on a multi-year project, Snake River Gateways, to transform three river access sites along the Snake River. The project with enhance the visitor experience, improve safety, restore the resilience of riparian habitat, improve infrastructure, and emphasize accessibility for all.  For more information about the Snake River Gateways project, visit www.nps.gov/grte or www.gtnpf.org/SnakeRiver.

During the temporary closure at Pacific Creek Landing, anyone putting in on the Snake River at Jackson Lake Dam will need to travel to Deadmans Bar, which requires an advanced skill set.  River users may want to consider an alternate section of river or other recreational activities during this time.

For information and safety tips about recreating on the Snake River, visit the park website at https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/boat.htm and watch a video produced in partnership with Grand Teton National Park Foundation at https://vimeo.com/336228905.

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