Inadequate planning is believed to be the cause behind a recent float trip that became a search and rescue mission on the Blackwater River in the Florida panhandle this past week. In a joint effort by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Forestry Service, the Coast Guard, EMS, Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and Okaloosa County Beach Safety, eight people had to be rescued after being missing for 25 hours on the river.
Details are scant on the identities of the people rescued, but it was revealed that the group had not properly planned for their trip nor filed float plans with anyone before venturing out. The total length of the river is 56.6, but only 31 miles of it is listed as navigable. The upper portion can have numerous snags at times while the lower portion is completely unnavigable past Deaton Bridge in Blackwater River State Park.
Fortunately this case had a successful conclusion, but not all search and rescue missions are as lucky. There are far too many stories of float trips ending in tragedy because people didn’t take the proper precautions. There are numerous variables involved in planning a float trip from the route itself, safety equipment, weather and remembering to file a float plan with friends or family. One must remember though, that even with the best planning, unforseen events can still happen and its best to have a way to get help.
The Florida DEP Greenways and Trails has a growing list of maps and details of many of the paddling trails in Florida available for free on their website. Another good source of information is from local paddling clubs and outfitters that may be more up-to-date on current river and creek details. Finally, many river levels can be found at the USGS Current Water Data website. While helpful, these sources do not cover all waterways in Florida and it is up to the individual to do their due diligence and research their intended destination.