Dams also offer unique enticements and challenges to boaters. Most reservoirs and many rivers have large cruising areas that have been created by dams. Dam spillways often hold trophy-sized fish in their turbulent waters. But the dangers are real!
Low-head dams in particular hold many dangers, and while they may be fairly safe at low water, they can become death traps when water levels rise. As water tumbles over the edge of the dam, it creates a turbulent current, sometimes called a "backwash" or "boil" or "hydraulic" that can be impossible to escape should you fall into one. These hydraulics can be strong enough to even pull your boat under!
- Dam spillways, either from a large dams’ sluice, or from a low-head dam, create an undertow that can swamp your boat and pin you underwater. Many spillways are marked with buoy lines that mark the danger area- pay attention to them.
- From upstream, low-head dams may not be visible, so check your chart, and pay attention to any buoys or markers that may be in the water.
- Above the dam, you have hydroelectric intake tubes, water gates that can have large amounts of debris trapped in front of them, and low-head dams that can be difficult to see until you are on top of them.