Accident Database

Report ID# 114929

  • PFD Not Worn or Present
  • Does not Apply
  • Inadequate Equipment
  • One Boat Trip

Accident Description

Teresa Moore via FB

Kudos to all of the Columbia boaters today who helped rescue a mother and toddler from the top of Millrace rapids. Please, please, please everyone; if you are going out on the water, WEAR A PFD (lifejacket) !!!  We saw so many issues with this 1 scenario.  It is summer and we want everyone to enjoy the river.

1) Neither mother nor child was wearing a PFD.  The child had "water wings" which will could potentially keep the arms out of the water while allowing the face and head to drop under the surface of the water, leading to a drowning.  Get a child's PFD !!!

2) They were trying to tube down a class 3 - 4 rapid.  Do NOT take a toddler down a rapid rated class 2 or higher.  Maybe not even a class 1.  Let them get used to flatwater first.  Then when they are old enough, slowly introduce them to moving water, appropriately, with the correct safety gear! 

This particular rapid is very rocky with hidden crevices and other hazards that travel downstream during floods.  Here is the description from American Whitewater: 

"Mill Race Rapids Class: IV:   When the water is above about 800 cfs it's a class III (technical). The water can be as high as 20,000 cfs. At that point, it's a monster and I'd seriously think twice about running it. It's easily a class V. The problem with mills race is that it's an old dam that was dynamited years back and is rumored to have rebar (steel rods that reinforced the concrete) all through the area."

While this is a local rapid and a very popular spot for kayakers, it is dangerous for those who are not familiar with the rapid.  Kayakers wear safety gear: helmet, PFD, sprayskirt, water shoes, etc.  Most of us have some level of swiftwater rescue training and and we carry safety equipment. 

Today, the river was 800 - 900 cfs.  The water looks relatively "safe" when it is low, but it is deceiving.  The mother was stuck in the middle of the Saluda River, at the top of Millrace with her toddler and 2 tubes.  There was no way for her to get the child safely down the river from where she was stuck and the child was terrified, crying hysterically at times.

Several boaters aided in the rescue.  Some of us stayed in strategic places to offer aid while two local boaters, Scott Brown and Jacob James Michael, walked one of the tubes down with the child on it.  The mother had to make her way carefully beside the tube and the boaters.  Our rescuers carefully chose the shallowest sections with the least amount of flow.  Still, they had to crawl over rocks and try to avoid the cracks and crevices hidden under the water. 

Once at the bottom of Millrace, Steve Wade ferried the tube with the mother and child to the bank on the opposite side of the river, where their family was frantically waiting.

Thankfully, they made it across safely and decided to call it a day.  They did not want to tube any further down the Saluda.  Good call as they would have encountered more rapids.

Please everyone, do NOT take infants and young children down these rapids.  This isn't the first rescue of a parent and child, just the first this year. 

Wear a PFD !!!  So many times, people will say "I'll put it on when I need it".   The problem is, that may be too late. 

Enjoy the water but DO SO SAFELY !!!  Lives cannot be replaced.

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