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Staying Safe on Your Float Trip


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Memorial Day is quickly approaching, and many people are planning their float trips for the summer. Floating the Illinois River in Tahlequah, Oklahoma is a weekend well spent in the outdoors. The Illinois River curves through the Cookson Hills, allowing for you to see rocky bluffs, trees and maybe even some wildlife during your float. However, as this popular floating weekend approaches, it’s important that you’re prepared for a safe trip with your friends and family.

Booking your trip

There are many options when choosing a resort for your float trip. Most resorts offer packages that include camping, the float trip, paddles, life jackets, transportation to drop off points and designated pick up areas. Most facilities offer rafts, canoes or kayaks. It’s important that you choose wisely here, making sure members of your group are comfortable to safely maneuver steering and paddling during your float.

Trips range from two to five-hour trips to four to eight-hour float trips. Most resorts have a strict check in time, no later than 6:00 p.m., so make sure you plan accordingly to get safely off the water in time.

Always check the river conditions

Check the Illinois River levels at Tahlequah before you float. Why? The river’s water levels continually rise and fall based on current rain patterns.  By calling ahead and speaking to your resort river guide, they can tell you current conditions and advise appropriate safety precautions. For more river information check this river guide provided by ok.gov.

Stay safe by simply following the rules

What not to take
  • Glass
  • Styrofoam containers
  • Ice chests over 48 quarts
  • Any alcohol over 3.2 percent on the river (Jell-O shots are fined per container)
What you should take on the water
  • Dry box to hold a small first aid kit, whistle or a phone for emergencies
  • Water shoes to protect your feet from sharp rocks on the river bed
  • Small ice chest
  • Water, and lots of it—it is very important to stay hydrated during your float
  • Sunscreen
  • Trash bag to prevent littering
  • Lunch and snacks, to replenish your energy after burning lots of calories swimming and paddling

Wear your life jacket

When they say wear your personal floating device, please do. You never know when you might need them on the river. Even for strong swimmers, currents can pick up, or you can hit an obstacle in the water, potentially flipping your raft.

Also, it’s a common practice for teens to tie rafts together with life jackets. This is not recommended, because tying rafts together makes it hard to safely maneuver the raft. You can actually get fined for tying your rafts together, so be safe and keep your rafts separate.

Have a float plan

Have a plan set in place in case you get separated from your group. Depending on the current, it can be tough to catch back up with each other, especially if you’re in two separate rafts, canoes or kayaks. Also, make sure you plan a trip that your group can manage. If you’ve never floated the river before, it may be best to start with the two-to-four hour trip. If you’re planning to float with young children, you might want to avoid the crowds. Start your trip early in the morning or plan your trip around peak holiday weekends to avoid party scenes.

However you spend your Memorial Day weekend, preparation is key to staying safe. Make sure you plan ahead, do your research, pack accordingly and of course, have some fun on the water.

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