Park rangers explain precautions to take before floating down the Buffalo National River

YELLVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas law requires that if you're in a boat on the river:

"If you're 12 and under, you're required to wear a life jacket, and if you're 13 or over, you're required to have a proper-fitting life jacket that's easily accessible to you in the vessel," said Casey Johannsen, an interpretive park ranger with the Buffalo National River.

The jacket has to be coast-guard approved.

And the park ranger with the river said that law doesn't just apply to canoes and kayaks.

"Inner tubes are considered vessels by the state of Arkansas," Johannsen said.

That means if you're 12 or younger, you have to wear a life jacket while floating on an inner tube, and if you're 13 or older you need to have a life jacket strapped to your tube.

And if you forget your jacket:

"Come see us at either Steel Creek, Tyler Bend Visitor Center, or the Buffalo Point Ranger Station, and we're happy to loan out life jackets," the ranger said.

You can get a $130 ticket if you don't follow the life jacket law.

If you plan to float on a tube, the park rangers said it's best to only go about a mile and a half.

"We find that when folks try to go beyond a mile and a half, they oftentimes get tired, they're not adequately prepared, they don't have enough supplies with them, and oftentimes they're going to require a ranger to come rescue them," Johannsen said.

And make sure your tube is durable and high quality.

"It's very easy for rocks and trees to puncture tubes, and then you end up having a very unenjoyable time on the river with a deflated tube," she said.

If you don't plan ahead, you can suffer the consequences.

"On any given weekend here at Buffalo Point between Memorial Day and Labor Day, we have hundreds of people out here on the river. And there's a potential for multiple rescues on any busy weekend," Johannsen said.

Which might include an unexpected overnight stay.

"It puts our rangers in harms way as well to go after dark to rescue people, and so if you are in that situation, there is the potential that you may have to spend the night out on the river, and that's a hard lesson to learn," she said.

And park rangers say don't hesitate to contact them before your journey.

"That means giving us a phone call, checking our website, calling our local canoe outfitters, and finding out what stretch of river is appropriate for you, what kind of vessel is appropriate for the stretch you want to do, and just making sure that you are aware of your own abilities and very aware of how the river flows here," Johannsen said.

For more information on river safety go to: www.nps.gov/buff/planyourvisit/prevention.htm