Low-head Dam Safety

Source: Indiana Department of Homeland Security; “Hoosier Responder” Magazine, June 2021

With more than 150 low-head dams cataloged in Indiana, local emergency management officials and response agencies are encouraged to share information about low-head dams, where they are and how best to avoid them.

A reoccurring theme of dam related deaths is that victims had been recreating nearby and were unaware of the power of the water, especially when the water level was up, which only enhances dangerous water velocities and the risk of unseen obstructions.

The churning action below low-head dams is dangerous for swimming, boating, fishing and other water recreational
activities. When recreating in a natural body of water, such as a river, be aware of the distance from any low-head dams. Always wear a personal flotation device when recreating in a natural body of water. If recreating near water, bring ring buoys, boat cushions or one-gallon milk jugs filled halfway with water and tied to 50 feet of rope. Using any of these items can help retrieve a person caught in a low-head dam without putting a rescuer in danger.

It is nearly impossible to escape the recirculating current of a low-head dam without assistance. If caught in the boil of a low-head dam, tuck your chin into your chest, draw your knees up and wrap your arms around them. By doing so, conditions may push you out of and away from the hydraulic current, along the streambed. After swimming away from the current, try to swim along the face of the dam towards the nearest bank.

If you see someone trapped in a low-head dam, call 911 immediately. Whether on shore or in a kayak or other boat, do not jump in to save the person, and do not approach the current. Stand on the bank and shout encouragement to the individual until help arrives.


If you need more information contact: inprepared@purdue.edu.

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