American Whitewater Accident Summary from January to June 2020

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r2 whitewater rafting

Stay safe out there, folks. You don’t want to become part of AW Accident Database Manager Charlie Walbridge’s semi-annual Accident Report, as highlighted below:

Report from Accident Database Manager Charlie Walbridge

“It’s been a strange year in a great many ways, on the river and off. While the number of deaths reported to American Whitewater in the first six months (28) is about average, their character is quite unusual. There have been very few fatalities involving experienced paddlers and no commercial deaths. This has been offset by a big increase in those involving inexperienced people. Half the accidents (14) involved recreational kayaks, most of them in fast water or mild rapids. In over half of these incidents (16) life vests were not used. Other craft involved included two whitewater kayaks (both with very experienced paddlers), one open canoe, 8 rafts, 2 inflatable kayaks, and 1 paddleboard. Many were on streams not listed in AW’s National Whitewater Inventory. My guess is that while many of us were staying home, others who own flatwater kayaks and cheap rafts were getting into trouble on local creeks. There were a large number of rescues reported, most involving rescue squads attending to stranded paddlers. Since experienced paddlers manage these situations themselves this also points to an influx of newbies on fast moving water..

Please contact AW Accident Database Manager Charlie Walbridge directly if you have additions, corrections, or observations. For the database, www.americanwhitewater.org

2020 AW Accident Summary

Fatalities: 28 total

Boats: WW Kayak 2; Rec Kayak 14; Open Canoe 1; Raft 8; Paddleboard 1; IK 2

States: 5 Idaho; 3 CO; 3 TN

Causes: No PFD: 16; Low Head Dams: 4; Strainers: 4; Flush Drowning: 4

Accident Report History

The American Whitewater Accident Database catalogs over 1600 fatalities and close calls on whitewater rivers dating back to 1972. The project was initiated over 40 years ago, in 1975 when a fatality occurred due to foot entrapment at a slalom race. Charlie Walbridge was present for the race and described the risks of foot entrapment for the first time in a 1976 issue of the American Whitewater journal. Charlie continued to collect reports and share lessons through the American Whitewater Journal. In 2001 American Whitewater Safety Chair Tim Kelly led an effort to develop the American Whitewater Safety Database and in 2017 the database was further refined with enhanced search functionality through a website interface. There are three good reasons for writing (or sending in) a whitewater accident report: it provides an opportunity to get the real story out, serves as a learning opportunity that can educate the paddling community, and it facilitates dialogue with river managers and decision makers. American Whitewater depends on its members to forward the reports and information on accidents on the water. First-hand accounts are best, but information from a newspaper article or social media post often provides the initial information that ultimately leads to more in-depth review and follow up.