Apart from extreme weather and waterfalls, recirculating currents and turbulent waters are two threatening phenomena that may drown or capsize a boat. To avoid them, it is necessary to understand “What creates recirculating currents and turbulent waters that can swamp boats and drown boaters?”
These two dangerous phenomena are created when water moves through an enclosed space, especially in artificial constructions like low head dams. This is also the primary reason low head dams are considered dangerous to boats and vessels.
To prevent you from being in an emergency triggered by turbulent waters and recirculating currents, this article provides strategies to avoid them, as well as the characteristics of low head dams.
First, let’s start the post with the creation of recirculating currents and turbulent waters!
Table of Contents
- How Are Recirculating Currents and Turbulent Waters Created?
- What Causes Recirculating Currents and Turbulent Waters?
- What Can Happen if Boaters Encounter Recirculating Currents and Turbulent Waters?
- How to Avoid Recirculating Currents and Turbulent Waters?
How Are Recirculating Currents and Turbulent Waters Created?
Encountering recirculating currents and turbulent waters may be a boater’s worst nightmare, yet many people are not aware of these threats while cruising. Understanding how they are formed and how to identify them will help you avoid unwanted accidents.
1. Recirculating currents
A significant factor that makes low head dams dangerous to small boats and paddle craft is the existence of recirculating currents. This natural phenomenon occurs mostly in enclosed water systems, such as low-head dams.
- The basis of recirculating current systems is the same regardless of the size or shape: running water moves in a circular pattern across a set of tubes or pipelines.
- The amount of water that circulates through the system and the tightness with which the tubes are secured influence the strength and the velocity of the recirculating current.
2. Turbulent waters
Although recirculating currents and turbulent waters often happen at the same time, they have different features. While recirculating currents are moving waters flowing in a certain pattern, turbulent waters tend to be chaotic and appear in no order.
Technically, turbulent water is a fluid movement in which layers interact with one another through eddies and whirls. That is also the reason why turbulent waters often result from recirculating currents. There are two major causes of this phenomenon.
- First, any impediment or sharp angle, such as a tap, causes turbulence by transferring perpendicular speeds to the flow.
- Furthermore, fast speeds create turbulence. If the flow velocity is high enough, the drag between subsequent layers of water and between the water and its surroundings will create eddies.
Both of the features above are signs for you to identify turbulent waters. When a part of the water starts to move quicker than usual and crashes into an abrupt and sharp terrain, that is when you may encounter turbulent water and, possibly, a waterfall ahead.
What Causes Recirculating Currents and Turbulent Waters?
There are many elements that contribute to the formation of turbulent waters and recirculating currents, including natural factors like wind, tides, waves, and currents.
- One of the reasons why people often avoid sailing or boating on stormy days is the unstable winds and tides.
- During extreme weather conditions, the wind on the river is stronger and more unpredictable, causing the tides and waves to be higher than usual.
- These tides and waves will build up and crash against rocks and the shoreline, which generates currents that are the opposite flow of the river waves. This leads to the creation of recirculating currents and turbulent waters.
Another aspect that influences the cause of turbulent waters and recirculating currents is the terrain. As we have mentioned in the previous part, recirculating currents appear mainly in enclosed water systems, such as low head dams.
- The structure of low head dams makes the water flow in a backwash manner, creating strong circulation currents above and beneath the dams’ surfaces.
- These two currents generate a recirculating flow, which turns into a drowning machine and swamps all boats traveling through it.
What Can Happen if Boaters Encounter Recirculating Currents and Turbulent Waters?
As frightening as they are, it will be a challenge for boaters when they accidently bump into these two phenomena while cruising on a river or a creek.
Due to the uncertainty of their causes, including strong winds, unstable tidal flow, and big waves, recirculating currents and turbulent waters are not easy to predict.
Theoretically, recirculating currents and turbulent waters will dissipate quickly. However, due to their enormous powers, they can last for several hours or even days.
These currents are hazardous to vessels and paddlers because they have the potential to swamp watercraft and drown people. Recirculating currents will drag things along with them if they are powerful enough.
This is especially problematic for boats, which are less immune to turbulent waters. If a vessel becomes entangled in a recirculating current, it can drown and capsize.
Furthermore, passengers and boaters frequently have little notice before being swept away by the current, so they won’t be able to react or have enough time to be rescued.
How to Avoid Recirculating Currents and Turbulent Waters?
When traveling in places with recirculating currents, there are things you should remember to have a safe trip:
- To begin, constantly be mindful of your surroundings and avoid moving too close to other boats.
- Second, ensure that you understand the local restrictions about recirculating currents.
- Next, choose a safe location to cruise and stay away from places like low head dams, waterfalls, etc.
- Lastly, always put on a life vest and understand how to use it correctly.
What creates recirculating currents and turbulent waters that can swamp boats and drown boaters? Enclosed spaces like low head dams are ideal places for turbulent waters and recirculating currents to form, especially in extreme weather conditions like winds, big waves, and tidal flows. Understanding how and where these phenomena occur will help you to avoid facing them while cruising.
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