FORT RUCKER, Ala. (May 30, 2018) - My husband and I love the outdoors. Whenever we get a chance, we enjoy camping, boating, fishing and anything else that a will give us a break from Army life. One spring it had rained a lot, and the rivers and streams were swollen. We'd wanted to go on a canoe trip for a while, and the heavy rains created what we thought would be great rapids on our local river. We got some friends together for the trip, rented three canoes with all the proper safety gear and made our way to the river.

Once we got to the river, we were excited to see how high the water had risen. My husband and I were very experienced with a canoe, so we didn't anticipate any danger. Unfortunately, we didn't take our friends' skill levels into consideration.

All six of us set off in our canoes, expecting an awesome ride. We knew the first few miles of our trip would be simple because my husband and I had canoed this river a few times. The fast-but-smooth river was fun for all, but it probably gave us a false sense of security.

About five miles into our trip, the water got choppy. Even my husband and I were starting to feel this trip was about to get more challenging. We should have pulled over to the bank and walked to safety, but being young Soldiers, we always pushed everything to the edge. As a group, we decided to forge ahead because we only had a mile or two to go until we reached the bridge where we would get out of the water. When we approached the next series of rapids, however, we realized we were in serious trouble.

My husband and I watched as our inexperienced friends' canoes tipped over, got lodged in a group of underwater trees and snapped in half. We could see them floating helplessly down the river. We kept our canoe afloat and attempted to paddle over to help them. We were able to reach two of our friends, who held on to the sides of our canoe as we paddled to the bank. Luckily, some people on the riverbank witnessed the incident and called 911. A safety boat was then dispatched to rescue our other two friends.

After the incident, we all realized it was a stupid idea to attempt a canoe trip following a storm. The only thing that saved my friends was the fact I'd insisted they wear their life jackets. At the time of this incident, I'd only been in the Army for a few years and didn't know anything about risk management. I believe that if I would have taken the time to weigh the hazards we could encounter on this trip, we would have never left that day.

Tips for Your Trip - WISCONSIN DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES:

Canoeing can be a lot of fun, but if you don't know the dangers, you could get into trouble on the water. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources offers the following tips for keeping dry and steering clear of danger.

• To get into a canoe:
o Have someone hold the canoe steady. You don't want to tip the canoe before you even get out on the water!
o Crouch low, keep your knees bent.
o Grab the sides of the canoe for balance.
o Always walk along the center. Keeping your feet on the centerline will help keep the canoe from rocking.

• Stay low. Do not stand up or walk in your canoe when you are away from shore.

• Always wear a life jacket. You never know when you might fall out or tip over unexpectedly.

• Avoid sudden or jerky movements. Rocking from side to side could cause the canoe to tip over.

• Be aware of the currents. You don't want to end up floating farther downstream than planned. If the current starts to pull you along faster or you see a lot of rocks in the water ahead, paddle away from them or toward the shore.

• Always sit on the seats or in the center of the canoe. Sitting on the side of a canoe will cause it to tip over.

• Stay away from low-hanging trees and branches near the shore.

• Do not canoe in bad weather.

• Avoid letting big waves hit the side of the canoe. Always try to keep the canoe at a right angle to the waves; otherwise, a wave might push the canoe over.

• If the canoe overturns:
o Don't panic.
o Stay with the canoe.
o Paddle or push the canoe to shore. Once in shallow water, flip the canoe to dump the water and then climb back in. A canoe will float even if it's full of water until you can get to shore to empty it.
o Always bring extra clothing in a waterproof container. You want to be prepared in case the canoe tips or the weather changes.

• Be sure to bring the proper equipment, including:
o Sun protection - hats, sunscreen, long-sleeved shirts and pants
o First aid kit
o Plenty of food and water
o Life jackets
o Map of the area. Be sure you know where you are so you do not get lost!

• Tie all equipment to the canoe. Put equipment into a waterproof bag to keep it dry and tie it to one of the center beams in the canoe so it won't be lost if the canoe overturns.

• Do not litter. Carry out everything you bring to the river.

Once you learn these important tips, grab your paddle and life jacket and you'll be set to go. Remember to always canoe safely and have fun on the water!

FYI - In addition to the canoeing tips above, safety specialists with the USACRC recommend you:

• Ensure everyone understands the class of river system and the skill level required to canoe safely.

• Know your group's skills, attitude, fitness, allergies and medical conditions.

• Develop a rescue plan and ensure everyone in the group understands local resources available. Remote points should be considered carefully.

• Communicate your plan. Let someone not on your trip know where you are going, when you expect to be back and what to do if you do not return.

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