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Safely Float a River With this Checklist of Do’s and Don’t’s

Man in an inner tube floating on a river
Floating the river is a fun summer activity, provided you take safety precautions.

Summer is upon us and the cool waters of nearby rivers and lakes beckon. Staying safe on a tube or other small floating craft, however, can mean a little bit of preparation. But don’t worry, it isn’t hard to be safe and still have lots of fun floating the river.


Before you float:

  • Have a plan for where and for how long you’ll float. You’ll likely go out for a few hours from point A to point B. It’s smart to have a vehicle and driver for the start and the finish, and not rely on the kindness of strangers to get you back to your vehicle.
  • Check the conditions on the river and in the sky. Weather can change rapidly and you don’t want to be stuck out when there’s a thunderstorm on the river. River guides and fly fishing stores are great sources for up-to-date information on how fast a river is flowing and if there are any hazards to worry about like lots of debris or changes in conditions.
  • Have your gear together. Gather up your floating devices from local stores where you can rent (like a tire shop or Army/Navy store) or buy your own from a hardware store to always have on hand.
  • Get safety equipment for yourself and floating friends. You can use rope to tie tubes together, secure equipment (like a cooler tube) or just attach the tube to your roof for transport. Don’t forget other safety items, like appropriate river shoes (water-friendly sandals are great), sunscreen, hats and rash guard shirts/shorts. For small children, or those not confident in their skills, you should also have life vests for each floater.
  • Keep the glass at home. Never bring anything breakable like glass bottles on the river. Rocks and glass don’t mix! Keep it safe by limiting yourself to cans (that you pack out when empty) and plastic.


While you’re floating:

  • Hydrate. Many floaters use a cooler to keep drinks cold and to even indulge in some “adult beverages” on the river. Boating, swimming, or yes, floating while drunk, however, can impair your judgment and lead to some bad decisions. Think about adding water and soda to that cooler to even out your hydration.
  • Secure valuables. If you left a vehicle, you certainly don’t want to lose the key in the river. Think about securing it with a safety pin or lanyard that’s hard to slip from a soggy pocket. If you have expensive jewelry that you’d be sad to lose, leave it at home (not in your car where thieves might seek it).
  • Don’t float with a new tattoo. Safety also means avoiding sickness. River water, while cool and beautiful, can contain bacteria that isn’t friendly to open wounds, which includes tattoos. If you’ve gotten new ink in the last 4 weeks, you’ll want to hold off on heading to the river, ocean or even pools and hot tubs.
  • Keep tabs on your group. Do you have a floating buddy? Make sure that you can see and track everyone in your group at all times, so you don’t leave someone behind. Need to pull over to a riverbank for a break? Wait for everyone to get together to leave once you take off again.
  • Eyes peeled for wildlife. Snakes can appear on riverbanks, turtles on warm rocks or even the occasional otter or bear. You probably won’t come face to face with anything with a taste for river floaters, but you shouldn’t presume, either.
  • Watch out for anglers. Traffic on the river can include anything from big boats, fast-moving crafts or even those casting a line or two. Try not to float where someone’s got a fishing line out, or you might be the one caught in a hook!


When you’re done floating:

  • Have a dry off. Keep a towel and a change of clothes in your vehicle when you get out of the river.
  • Pack out your stuff. Keep a trash bag at the ready and take out all of your gear, trash and leftovers. Leave no trace is the rule!
  • Return your rentals. If you rented a tube, take it back and return it. Or store a purchased tube for use next time!


And most of all, have fun!

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