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Dam and Boating Safety

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DAVENPORT, IA – Danger zones near the dam are considered restricted areas. Dennis Shannon, Chief of the Lock and Dam Section for Mississippi River Rock Island, says 600 feet above the dam and 150 feet below the dam are off-limit zones.

Samantha Heilig, Natural Resource Specialist at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, says, “The water current around the dams is tremendous. As we go through the season, that water current changes daily and hourly.

The water above moves quickly towards the dam and the water below spins backwards. Heilig says, “If you get too close to the downside, you can actually be pulled upstream towards the dam instead.”

Danger zones are federally enforced to limit life-threatening situations.

Shannon says, “When you go through there, they describe it like a drowning machine because you go through the gate, then you spin through, and pop back out.”

For boaters who accidentally drift that way and find themselves in a worst-case scenario near the dam, there may be one last option. There are safety blocks build-in for emergency purposes.

Shannon says, “At all of our dams, we have safety blocks that are distributed across the dam. If someone gets into distress, they’re also called “last chance” blocks where somebody can grab ahold and pull themselves up.”

He says they then hang on until somebody can come out there and rescue them.

Shannon says the most important thing is to look out for warning signs of these restricted areas.  “If you’re a boater out on the river at this time of year, or any time of year for that matter, you want to make sure you stay out of these restricted areas.”

If you find yourself in trouble on the river, experts say it’s best to carry a marine-band radio and dial into channel 16. This will put you in direct contact with a coast guard when you need help.

Heilig also says you should always go through a pre-launch checklist before leaving shore.

Here is the checklist from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

1.       Drain plug in place.

2.       Trailer tie downs and transom saver removed.

3.       Trailer lights unplugged.

4.       Fuel line connected and primer bulb firm.

5.       Fuel and oil supply adequate.

6.       Registration on board.

7.       PFD’s fitted and readily accessible.

8.       Throwable ring cushion/ring readily accessible.

9.       Horn/whistle in working order.

10.   Navigation lights working.

11.   Fire extinguisher serviceable.

12.   Anchor and rope available.

13.   Paddle/oars available.

14.   Distress signaling device on board.

15.   Weather and river conditions acceptable.

16.   Float Plan available (someone knows)

Both Shannon and Heilig say it’s important to “respect the river” and make sure you are boating safely.

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