Coast Guard and National Weather Service emphasize high-water safety awareness

BOSTON — Following a spate of torrential downpours and record-breaking flood levels, the Coast Guard is issuing an urgent safety advisory for all boaters and paddlers planning to venture out on the inland and coastal waters of the Northeast this weekend.

Heavy rains earlier this week have caused extensive flooding throughout the Northeast and many rivers and streams are predicted to crest into the weekend, creating stronger-than-usual currents and unforeseen eddies and rips.

Additionally, gale-force winds over the past two weeks have toppled trees and stirred up branches and debris on inland waters which create hazards above and below the surface. This debris, along with low bridges, creates strainers that can have serious, uncorrectable consequence for unsuspecting paddlers and small boaters.

Coast Guard First District Recreational Boating Safety Specialist Al Johnson warns boaters and paddlers to assess the risks and be fully aware of the dangers of high water, higher-than-usual tides and extremely cold water.

“When a heavy deluge pushes water levels to the flood stage on inland and coastal waters, it drastically alters the characteristics of the flow, and moving water at this time is fast, frigid and unforgiving,” said Al Johnson, the First District recreational boating safety specialist. “Until the waters recede, we advise people not to go.”

“Unfortunately, there will be those that do,” Johnson said. “So if a poor decision overrides common sense, make sure you’re wearing a life jacket, properly attired for immersion in extremely cold water and leave a will. Anyway you want to say it, flood waters are dangerous.”

“Area rivers will crest into the weekend and then fall to more moderate flood elevations but the message we want to emphasize is that the swift flow of area rivers into coastal waters will continue into the weekend and recreational boaters are advised to avoid the “entrance areas” due to the fast currents and turbulent nature of the flowing water,” said David Vallee, hydrologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service’s Northeast River Forecast Center in Taunton, Mass.

Johnson advises all early-season boaters and paddlers to be fully aware of the dangers and be prepared for sudden cold-water immersion.

Two women capsized in a boat on the rain-swollen Ipswich River in North Reading, Mass., in March. One was able to reach shore and the other was rescued by the North Reading Fire Department. Neither woman was wearing a life jacket.

A kayaker drowned in the flood waters of Hubbard Brook in Granville State Forest in Massachusetts the day before.

“In addition to wearing a life jacket, a wet or dry suit is essential for survival this time of year,” Johnson said.

Wearing a life jacket is mandatory in Massachusetts until May 15.

Johnson recommends that anyone who isn’t properly equipped or prepared for cold-water survival should wait for summer weather.

“Flood waters have contributed this year to the loss of a canoeist on the Exeter River in Raymond, and a kayaker is still missing on the Connecticut River,” said Dave Barrett, New Hampshire state boating law administrator. “Our advice is to avoid flood waters.”

Boaters, paddlers and fishermen can check water conditions at the U.S. Geological Survey Real-Time Water Data website at http://water.usgs.gov/realtime.html and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Hydrologic Information Center – River Stages website at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/oh/hic/current/river_flooding/Stages.htm.

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