• Published: January 10, 2018

At WRI Environmental we specialize in fastwater spill response and inland spill response training. Last Christmas, I was put on standby for an inland oil spill response and spent over an hour collecting the right personal gear I’d need to be outside on a river in windy 10 degree weather.  I was reminded that safely responding to a river emergency or spill in cold weather requires a little more preparation and equipment than in summer.  The first way we manage risk as responders is by wearing the right personal clothing and gear for the conditions. This list is not that much different from my summer response checklist since in the mountain west the old saying is, “We have two seasons, winter and…..July.”

WRI Instructor Dr. John Amtmann completed a study at Montana Tech that tested how long workers in steel-toed boots and heavy work clothing could tread water after a sudden immersion. The answer is not long-sometimes less than one minute. This study was done in a warm pool, not ice cold, fast-moving river water. Wearing a properly fitted and buckled lifejacket is one of the most important risk management steps we can take when working on a river.

 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Lifejacket, helmet, steel-toed winter boots, eye & ear protection, work gloves.

Winter Clothing: Insulated shell Jacket and pants, warm hats, extra warm gloves, two fleece layers / top and bottom, fleece/wool sox, rain shell, neck gator, ice cleats.

River Gear: PFD with knife, multi-tool & whistle.  Neoprene river gloves & sox (3ml plus).  River shoes. Drysuit. River Helmet, Throwbag, Pin/Anchor Kit with Webbing, Pulleys, Carabiners, Prussiks.

Miscellaneous: Headlamp, extra batteries, small tarp, first aid kit, thermos w/ hot drink, water, food, fire starter, small ground pad and tarp, ice picks, dry bag, extra puffy coat, phone, charger, radio,  shovel, goggles, ice screws, ice picks, climbing harness.

This may look like overkill, but it’s an incomplete list for Fastwater Spill Response. To be an effective and safe responder you need to be comfortable. Staying well-hydrated and fueled helps you stay warm. So start with the right equipment for the job, establish up stream and downstream safety, and always have a back-up plan. Let us know if there’s anything else that should be on the list.



“I have been in the whitewater industry for 8 years and own a kayaking and rafting company in Missoula Montana. Safety is my number one concern whether it’s kayaking with my buddies on a Class V run or guiding clients on Class I. Zoo Town Surfers did a class with the WRI and it not only brought us together as a team but gave my guides the skills that are required and expected in our industry. These guys have been leading the industry in river safety and will continue for years to come! ”

Jason Shreder, Zoo Town Surfers
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