Precautions to keep in mind while floating the Boise River
BOISE — With hot weather ahead, people are rushing to cool off in the Boise River. The summer months see hundreds of people floating the river weekly, making the six-mile journey from Barber Park to Ann Morrison Park – and with that much river traffic comes safety concerns.
The first day of the 2022 floating season saw 14 rescue assists by the Boise Fire Department Dive Team in less than six hours, KTVB previously reported. Four of these assists were defined as life-threatening or life-saving rescues.
“I think it (was) just sheer volume, people are antsy to get on the river,” said Robbie Sosin, program and education specialist at Ada County Parks and Waterways.
Sosin noted that the river’s flow was higher than when it would normally open, at 1,400 cubic feet per second, possibly contributing to the incidents as well. Since then, assists have lessened to once a week on average.
Alex Kane and Kirsten Whistle prepped themselves for the water at Barber Park on Thursday, sitting alongside their raft as they covered themselves in sunscreen. Originally from New York, the pair were visiting Boise this week when they heard about the popular floating spot.
“We actually got a recommendation to come here,” Whistle said.
A local they ran into at Trader Joe’s suggested floating the river as something they had to check out.
Inspired, the pair rented their raft from the Boise River Raft and Tube Rentals, anticipating some respite from the hot weather.
“Hopefully some cooling off and warming up from the sun,” Kane said.
BFD Special Operations Division Chief Paul Roberts said that this summer has been a busy one with people going out to float the river.
While the average water flow for the Boise River is 700 to 800 cubic feet per second, the current flow is at 1,300.
“The water’s moving quite swiftly, the water’s very cold and that cold water can even impact the best of swimmers and cause a bad outcome,” Roberts said.
The high water level can also mask hidden debris and hazards under its surface.
A reminder Roberts emphasized is to not use low head dams for recreation. A repeated call the BFD has received is from floaters who decide to go over one of these dams and end up endangering themselves. Here, it can be difficult even for Boise Fire to respond to incidents.
Another issue the department has been seeing is rafts that are tied together.
“It creates a lot of problems particularly when the floaters get to bridges and the floats get caught on the concrete pillars,” Roberts said. “One raft wants to go on one side and one raft wants to go on the other. And people can get hung up on there and that can turn into a catastrophic event very, very quickly.”
The rafts provided at Barber Park’s rental spots are more than just pool floats, Sosin said. They are thicker and stronger as well as pumped up to the recommended air pressure. While taking that plastic orca pool float on the river may seem fun, actual rafts built for the river are safer.
“I know there’s a group that comes out every year and they have this big flamingo floaty that they patch up,” he said. “But either a tube or raft are going to be way better.”
A misconception Sosin has seen is people underestimating the Boise River. Thinking like this has led to people coming underprepared, skipping steps and arriving with poor equipment.
“There’s a lot of people that have moved here from other places that aren’t really used to a river like this. And they might be expecting something like a lazy river, like Roaring Springs,” Sosin said. “But, it’s a natural body of water. So it’s definitely a little bit more dangerous.”
While the BFD may clear out some debris and hazards to prepare for the season, the river has many uncontrollable variables.
“You have to be cognizant, to know it is a wild river and things are in and along the river that present hazards,” Roberts said. “So floating the river without lifejackets, particularly where the law requires 14 and under to wear a life jacket. That’s kind of a recipe for disaster.”
Updates and reminders of preparations to take before heading to the river can be found on the Float the Boise River Facebook page.
“I just want to reiterate to float at your own risk,” Sosin said. “While the river is open for recreation, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is safe.”