Weather is unpredictable but knowing as much as possible prior to your journey can help you prepare better. Get up-to-date weather forecasts and tidal information before setting out. Consult charts and maps (often freely available online) to understand the route and work out the places to get fresh water, fuel and food.
Always take a mobile telephone with a charged battery for emergencies. Keep a list of emergency numbers, particularly of national or local boat rescue outfits. If you do have an accident make sure you know your location at all times so help can reach you faster. Take a first aid book to help you treat injuries until professional help arrives, particularly if you’re in a remote area.
Food and Water
Remember too, just because the locals are doing it or eating it doesn’t mean it’s safe. Foreigner’s stomachs are far more susceptible to local ‘delicacies’ so be careful what you put in your mouth; particularly on passenger ferries doing long routes on Asian, South American and African rivers. Take a good stock of stomach and dysentery medicines just in case. Bring plenty of bottled water and snacks if you can’t stomach the food.
Waterways are not necessarily clean for swimming and may even be prohibited by local bylaws if infection risks are known. However boaters often do go in the water as a result of an accident or the need for boat maintenance. Shower or wash thoroughly as soon as possible after immersion. To prevent cuts and abrasions getting infected put on waterproof plasters and always wear stout footwear.
Never stand with one foot on the boat and one on shore and get people, particularly children, to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) if they are available. You can also get them for dogs!
When negotiating locks always give clear instructions to assistants and don’t assume they know the correct procedure. You may prefer to refuse their assistance politely. Become familiar with boating rules before setting out and always observe waterway rules and regulations.
If you have any concern about the type of vessel you are on or how many people there are, it’s up to you to make a judgment on safety. Other nations might not have or enforce the same rigorous code of safety as others. If you have a choice between several boats, the newer, larger boats are generally stronger and faster.
River travel can take a lot longer than you think due to unforeseeable circumstances or the season so always allow extra time for the journey. Boats in some parts of the world rarely leave on time or simply depart when full. You may have to wait several days for the next departure.
Creature comfort can be lacking on some vessels or they can be overcrowded. Check the facilities first to see if you’ll survive it over several days. Earplugs can be handy for untoward noise in the late evening.