Recent rains have caused many rivers in Southcentral Alaska to swell, including Eagle River, the scene of a rafting fatality on Sunday evening.

Kelli Toth, with the state Office of Boating Safety, said when the water is high it can be challenging to see roots and logs that can snag boats and cause them to flip. She said some of those situations can change almost every day. That’s why it’s important to scout the water close to the day you plan to go.

“You can’t assume because you ran this river two weeks ago that it’s going to be the same and those hazards are going to be in place,” Toth said. “You can’t underestimate the personality of a river, it changes all the time.”

Finding someone who has experience on the river is also a good idea, especially for people who are unfamiliar with the waterway. Toth said running it with them is ideal, or at the very least, seeking their advice.

Toth said most boating deaths occur when people get tossed in the water. And in Alaska, our cold water can quickly be life threatening. She said that’s why it’s important to wear a personal floatation device, no matter how well you can swim.

“What happens to your body is this cold shock response where you gasp and hyperventilate,” Toth said. ” So it’s really hard to survive that phase without having an added floatation device.”

She added that kids under 13 have to wear them by law.

Toth also recommended carrying a cell phone in a waterproof case, or better yet, a personal location device that is kept on your body and not in a bag so you can use it in an emergency. Most importantly, she said, file a float plan. That can be as simple as telling someone where you plan to go, when you plan to leave and where to start looking if you don’t return on time.

For other tips, she recommend visiting the website pledgetolive.org.

KTVA 11’s Lauren Maxwell can be reached via email or on Twitter.

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