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Truckee River Safety

Reno Fire Department and Sparks Fire Department officials would like to remind residents to be safe around the Truckee River. As the weather warms, activity will increase around the river, particularly as the community gathers downtown this weekend for the Reno River Festival.

According to the National Weather Service in Reno, no mainstem river flooding is expected this weekend, but it’s important for citizens to be aware that river levels can change rapidly during heavy regional rain storms.

While all outdoor recreation has inherent risks, many swimming accidents — especially those at rivers and whitewater creeks — are preventable. Here are some simple things you can do to stay safe:

  • Never swim alone.  Be a competent swimmer. Don’t attempt rapids which lie beyond your ability.
  • Use a personal flotation device.
  • Know the river to prevent unpleasant surprises.  Find out what lies downstream.
  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs.  The use of alcohol or mind altering drugs before or during swimming or river trips is not recommended. They dull reflexes, reduce decision making ability and survival reflexes, and are often linked to fatalities.
  •  When rafting or tubing, don’t float out of control.  Your water skills should be sufficient to reach shore before reaching danger.  Do not enter a rapid unless you are reasonably sure you can run it safely or swim it without injury.
  • Wear a life jacket.  A snugly fitting vest-type life preserver offers back and shoulder protection as well as the flotation needed to swim safely in fast moving water.
  • Beware of high water. The river’s speed and power increase tremendously as the flow increases. Rescue becomes progressively more difficult as the water rises, adding to the danger.   Floating debris and strainers make even an easy rapid quite hazardous.
  • “Strainers” can pin swimmers against obstacles.  Brush, fallen trees, rocks, concrete pilings or anything which allows river currents to sweep through can pin swimmers against the obstacle.  Water pressure on anything trapped this way can be overwhelming, making rescue difficult.  Pinning may occur in fast current, with little or no whitewater to warn of the danger.
  • Upstream currents occur when water drops over an obstacle, curling back on itself and capable of holding a person or boat. Despite their seemingly benign appearance, they can create an almost escape proof trap.  The swimmer’s only exit from the “drowning machine” is to dive below the surface when the downstream current is flowing beneath the reversal.
  • If swept away, don’t try to stand up.  Swim to shore.  Attempting to stand while moving in the river current can cause foot entrapment leading to broken legs and possibly drowning.
  • When swimming in shallow rapids, lie on your back with feet held high and pointed downstream.   Do not attempt to stand in fast moving water. If your foot wedges on the bottom, fast water will push you under and keep you there.  Get to slow or very shallow water before attempting to stand or walk.  Look ahead!  Avoid possible pinning situations including undercut rocks, strainers, downed trees, holes, and other dangers by swimming away from them.
  • What to wear / what to take.  Carry equipment needed for unexpected emergencies, including footwear to protect feet when walking out.  Sunglass and eyeglass users should tie them on.  Consider carrying a throw rope, knife, whistle, and waterproof matches.  Do not wear bulky jackets, ponchos, heavy boots, or anything else which could reduce your ability to survive a swim.
  • The Truckee River is very cold.  Hypothermia can set in quickly (37 minutes).
  • Watch children while you are close to the water.  Remember that children can’t maintain body temperature as well as adults.  Cold water will affect them quickly.