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Tubers get in trouble by underestimating Dan River's power, travel time
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Tubers get in trouble by underestimating Dan River's power, travel time

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EDEN, N.C. — Tubers and boaters often make a fatal mistake by underestimating the force of the water current at the base of even smaller dams, outdoors experts say.

"The hydraulics is what gets people,'' said Glenn Bozorth, who owned and operated Dan River Adventures in Stoneville for 25 years. "When the water goes over the dam, it creates a circular motion that pulls you under ... it sucks you under and once you're drowned, you float downstream and get hung up somewhere or hung up under water.''

Bozorth spoke to RockinghamNow on Friday as rescue workers continued a search for two people missing since Wednesday after a group of nine took rafts down the Dan River and went over a dam near the Duke Energy Steam Station. Four in the group were rescued and three were found dead, authorities said on Thursday.

Bozorth, who sent thousands upon thousands of tubers, canoeists and kayakers down the Dan River over the decades, said having a plan in place for a river trip can save lives.

"One of the biggest problems is people get in the river without a plan,'' he said. "Whenever we've had to rescue people it was typically because they weren't listening to directions.''

And folks who set out on the river in inner tubes or on floats seem to regularly underestimate how long trips downstream will actually take, Bozorth said, explaining a tube travels about 1 mph, compared to a canoe, which moves at twice that speed.

"People get in the river, doing their own thing, and they think it's not that far from one point to the other, but it's hours and hours,'' he said.

When traveling a river, floaters must know about the dams along their route and prepare to get out of the water well before the dam — a strategy known as portaging — in order to walk around a dam's hazardous currents.

High water and poor light can obscure signage that alerts people to portage areas before dams, and if boaters or floaters are drinking, they may be distracted and miss the critical signs, Bozorth said.

And if a group of floaters sees a dam fast approaching, they must be prepared to get out of the water quickly. But a popular trend of creating raft and tube "flotillas" by connecting floatation devices with rope, may impede such hasty exits, Bozorth said. 

"When groups of people on rafts and tubes tie together, it reduces their maneuverability,'' Bozorth said. "And that makes it hard to get out.''

Missing a dam isn't easy, Bozorth said. "If somebody goes over a dam, they've either missed the sign, they're asleep or inebriated, or it got too dark for them. It's just better to go on the river with somebody who knows what they're doing.''

Contact Susie C. Spear at sspear@rockinghamnow.com, (336) 349-4331, ext. 6140 and follow @SpearSusie_RCN on Twitter.

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