‘That water here will get you:’ Montana rivers, lakes more dangerous this time of year

Posted at 3:42 PM, Jun 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 18:13:33-04

BOZEMAN – The water is dangerous. That’s a message that life-saving agencies like Gallatin County Search and Rescue want you to know, especially this time of year.

If you look at the Gallatin River, for example, even in the more smooth-looking spots, it doesn’t look friendly.

And however it looks on the surface can be a completely different story underneath, with cold temperatures and currents getting the best of people, even animals.

Those who push themselves to the limits to save lives say if you fall into waters like this, you could find yourself in serious trouble.

“The water here will get you,” says Jason Jarrett, commander of Gallatin County Search and Rescue. “It is fast. It is powerful. It is full of hazards.”

Summer means getting out on the water — for many, in kayaks, in rafts, in canoes.

But with rivers like the Gallatin, consider doing something else.

“This is the time of year when we see tragedy,” Jarrett says.

Commander Jason Jarrett and his crew with Gallatin County Search and Rescue are too familiar with tragedy.

“It is very unforgiving in this part of the world this time of year,” Jarrett says. “The water desperately needs people to respect it because if you don’t respect the power of the water, the temperature of the water, the hazards that are in the water from downed cottonwood trees to rocks to fence lines, it will get you.”

The team has already saved several lives this year.

When trouble brews, it brews fast.

“You can go around a nice, smooth bend in the river and the water is fine and you’re dangling your feet and, the next minute, you’re sucked into a strainer or up against a log and you’re flipped and you’re trapped underneath,” Jarrett says.

And hypothermia works even more quickly.

The staff of Round House Sports Center in Bozeman say being ready is just half of preventing the worst.

“It doesn’t take long for them to get out of breath, cramp up and then that’s when things start to happen,” says Ryan Merkel, Round House manager.

There are things out there like life preservers or other flotation devices that could make all the difference if you find yourself in a tough spot out on a river.

Make sure it’s well-fitted, too. That’s important.

Other items like a throw bag could mean all the difference between life or death.

“It makes a good situation go bad real quick when somebody falls in the water and you don’t have the means to get them out,” Merkel says.

The other half: not going into waters like this at all.

“The amount of force a moving river has, if you don’t respect that, you don’t really need to be on the river,” Jarrett says.

Jarrett also says it is important to know that you should call the Sheriff’s Office if you lose a boat down a river.

They insist, out of safety, and they will go and find it for you.

Reporting by Cody Boyer for MTN News