How to Ride Safely Around Dams
General Advice:

When boating around dams, make sure you have the information you need to know to be safe. Much of the danger arises from rapid changes in water levels and from the power of water discharge at the spillway—either through sluices or over the top of “low-head” dams.

Safety Tips to Follow:

1. Spillways create powerful currents sometimes called “backwash,” “boilroller” or “hydraulic” that can swamp small craft or knock you off and pull you under. Reverse currents can draw the unwary back toward the spillway. Observe and obey warning signs, lights, horns, sirens or buoy lines marking closest safe approach.

2. Know the waters. Some dams have invisible underwater obstructions near them.

3. Before riding near a dam, check its release schedule. Even dams that are only a few feet high are extremely dangerous because of the hydraulics they produce.

4. Keep an eye on the weather, so you won’t be surprised by a sudden storm.

5. Low-head dams may be hard to spot from upstream, so keep an eye out on your position and look for warning signs or buoys.

6. Dams and upstream hydroelectric intakes can collect debris that can damage your pump or PWC or both. River water levels are usually higher and currents faster in spring.

7. Never anchor below a dam because water levels can change rapidly, Also, not all dams give warnings about a release of water.

8. Leave your engine running to maintain headway.

9. And of course, always wear your lifejacket(s) device!

Sources: TVA, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources