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Winter Boating on Rivers
These comments apply mainly to the River Severn but most are applicable to any major river in Britain.
||Boating on any river in Winter should be approached with caution.
It is different from boating on the canal network where the water is stationary, depths are very shallow and the bank is just a few feet away.
On a river, water levels may be high and the current fast. Should things go wrong, they can escalate quickly and help may be a long time arriving. Rivers in flood are especially dangerous.
- Winter weather in Britain is variable. Memories are short. In recent times, parts of the River Severn have frozen over and will probably freeze again. Flooding occurs almost every year.
- Daylight hours are short. Air temperatures, and certainly water temperatures will be low.
- Night time temperatures are often below freezing. Decks may be icy.
- If you fall in near-freezing water your survival time may be nil (cold water shock) or, at most, less than 15 mins.
- River flow increases in the autumn and usually is greatest during the winter and spring months.
- Heavy rain in the mountains of Wales may flood the lower stretches of the Severn after a time lag of 12 to 48 hours.
- Strong flow will carry, often partially submerged, debris flushed from river banks ranging from tree trunks to oil drums. Collision with such debris could damage your prop or even hole your boat.
- You will travel slower and use more fuel when going upstream against the flow.
- Clearance heights under bridges may be greatly reduced. The River Severn can rise over 18 ft above normal summer levels.
- There will be few boats travelling on the river in winter.
- Following a breakdown, or even a life-threatening emergency, assistance may be very slow to arrive.
- If you have to walk from the bankside to get help, remember the flood plain is very wide and you may have a long walk perhaps wading through freezing water.
Reducing the risk
- Avoid boating when a river is in flood.
- Ensure your boat and equipment is in first class condition and that you have sufficient fuel.
- Have alternate means of propulsion. Travel in company with another boat if possible.
- Carry emergency supplies in case you are stranded overnight.
- Check the weather forecasts. Know the symptoms, and how to deal with hypothermia.
- Carry some form of communication. A mobile phone is probably better than VHF on inland waters in winter.
- Most important. Know your location on the river at all times. Keep a navigation log and carry maps.
- The UK '999' telephone service will connect you to an efficient but land-orientated call centre.
- A call for help may be useless if the rescue team does not know exactly where you are.
- Emergency help may arrive overland. It may not be much use if it arrives on the opposite bank of a wide and swollen river!
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