Personal Flotation Device
Like all rivers the Willamette River can be dangerous, especially to those unaware of potential hazards. First and foremost, you should always wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD, aka lifejacket). PFDs make all the difference – and whether you are a strong swimmer or not, without a life jacket, surviving a mishap can be quite difficult without one.
Woody debris is a chief hazard – typically logs, root wads and other wood extending from the shoreline, or bobbing in the current. If you or your craft make contact with such debris, you can be stopped and pinned against the obstruction. In many cases it is very hard to free you or your craft from such debris. Always scan ahead and stay on the lookout, and understand how to maneuver your craft. Side channels can provide additional hazards with woody debris, so always look ahead if you take a side channel, and be prepared to deal with a blocked or partially blocked channel in current. Too often people take side channels for granted.
During much of the year the water can be cold, so carry the appropriate clothing and gear to stay warm, or to change into if you had an unplanned swim. In the summer months be sure to stay hydrated, and to bring water. You can also bring a water filter as the Willamette’s water can be cold and delicious when filtered.