Montana’s welcoming summer waters annually draw anglers, hikers, wildlife viewers, campers, floaters and boaters into the outdoors.
Yet, it’s still pretty easy to have a great summer experience on Montana’s rivers.
The key is river etiquette, a mix of common sense, courtesy, and respect to minimize one party’s impact on another party’s good time. Here are some examples of basic river etiquette:
Respect People’s Space and Privacy – The point at which someone feels crowded is subjective, but every outdoor activity requires space. On the river, maintain a reasonable space between you and other river users, and use friendly communication when encounters are unavoidable. When pulling ashore, select unoccupied beaches and swimming areas whenever possible. Don’t assume because it is a public space that strangers will welcome company. When passing people fishing on shore or from a boat, be quiet, and if safety permits, give a wide berth by moving toward the opposite side of the river. Avoid floating through an area where anglers are fishing. And, when fishing, do not monopolize a fishing hole.
Respect Other’s Time – Always be prepared to launch your boat before you get to the boat ramp. Have your gear organized and boats loaded and rigged—and once in the water, clear the launch area as quickly as possible. Keep children from playing on the boat ramp.
Respect Private Property Rights – Respect the property rights of private landowners. Know your rights and responsibilities under the Montana Stream Access Law and stay below the ordinary high water mark. Keep dogs under control, respect ranchers’ fencing and learn how to properly negotiate float gates and other portage routes.
Respect Wildlife – Taking proper care not to interfere with or displace wildlife has became a golden rule of outdoor etiquette in Montana.
Keep It Down – Excitement is what river recreation is about, so a few hoots and hollers are to be expected. But excessive whoops are in the same category as loud music and noisy generators in camp. Keep noise-levels down when others are nearby and when floating past residential areas.
All boats must have one U.S Coast Guard-approved life jacket, also known as a personal floatation device or PFD Type I, II, or III, for each person on board.
Life jackets must be in good condition, the appropriate size for the intended wearer, and readily accessible.
Boats 16 feet or longer (excluding canoes and kayaks) must also have at least one throwable floatation device (Type IV) such as a ring buoy or boat cushion. This floatation device must be immediately available and within reach of the boat’s operator or passengers.
Under Montana Law, life jackets must be worn by:
• Kids under 12 years of age in boats less than 26 feet in length and in motion;
• Water skiers, tubers, or anyone being towed by a boat; and
• Anyone operating or riding a personal watercraft.
The importance of life jackets cannot be underestimated. If you’re floating through whitewater, get caught in a storm, or you’re not a good swimmer, wearing a lifejacket could save your life. These rules are there to help keep summer days on the water safe and fun for everyone.
To learn more about recreational ethics, go to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website at fwp.mt.gov