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The Poudre River is a community treasure. It is also powerful and unpredictable. PFA, along with several local partners, wants to help make river recreation safer. While we never call the river “safe”, there are resources, practices and information to help you recreate on the river more safely.

Organizations came together after two river deaths in 2017 to form the initiative. River safety work has been going on in our community long before that, and this initiative helps to combine and strengthen those efforts. We must work together through education and awareness to create changes in behavior. This is the foundation of community risk reduction – the heart and soul of our work.

Please use the river safety tips and map below, heed the advice of professionals and never underestimate the river.  

Poudre River River Safety Brochure- Map

River Safety Tips

  • Wear a Life Vest. Choose a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) rated for the river. Not all life vests are the same.
  • Know Conditions. The Poudre River is filled with melted snow – it’s always cold. People can easily experience hypothermia in the water. Always check weather and river conditions. Check flow levels on the Poudre Rock Report.
  • Scout Your Route. Plan your put-in and take-out points. Certain areas of the river include low-head dams, which are incredibly dangerous. The river can change quickly. Areas that appear obstacle free in the morning could have several hazards by the afternoon. 
  • Float Sober. The unpredictability and variety of river obstacles require your full, unimpaired attention.  
  • Show & Tell. Make sure someone not in your party knows your route and timeline. If plans change, put a note in your vehicle on the driver’s side dashboard. Write your name and number on your vessel. If you and your vessel become separated, this helps responders verify if someone is missing or in need of help. 
  • In the Water. Get on your back with feet pointing downstream. Don't stand up or try to walk out.  Swim as close to the shore as possible then crawl or scoot out to avoid entrapment in the rocky shore. 
  • Reach or Throw, Don’t Go. If someone is caught in fast moving water, reach out to them or throw a rope to the person in the water. Do not attach the rope to yourself in any way or enter the water or you may also become in need of rescuing.
  • Call 911 ASAP.  Call with details about the location of the incident. Make sure someone has a waterproof phone available.
  • Stay Detached. Never tie anything to anything – including you. If you connect to something, including another tube, and encounter an obstacle, the situation can be more dangerous.

Organizations that have taken part in the group’s efforts include: Poudre Fire Authority; City of Fort Collins Natural Areas and City of Fort Collins Utilities; Poudre Heritage Alliance for the Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area; Larimer County; the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office; Larimer County Emergency Services; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; and more. Thank you everyone!

Tragedy on the River 

On June 27, 2017, 64-year-old William McHarg, of Severance, died after falling into the Poudre while he was on a rafting trip. The Larimer County Coroner’s Office determined Mr. McHarg had severe heart disease and died from a heart attack and drowning. Seattle-area 18-year-old Maximilian Gonzalez died after getting caught on June 18 in a low-head dam while tubing near Bellvue.  Our hearts go out to the people who have lost loved ones. Please remember their stories and make smart decisions.

Educational river-safety signage, designed and installed by the City of Fort Collins, sits near a trail by the Poudre River, accessible in the approximate area of 1219 N. Shields St.

Lost or Loose Watercraft?

Call the non-emergency dispatch number at 970-221-6540 to report the watercraft, when it is safe to do so. Have the color, approximate size, location you last saw it and direction it was traveling. Concerned people often call in if they see something like this and it is very helpful to know that there is no one in need of help associated with the craft.