Using the Occoquan’s Features to Our Advantage
As stated before, the Occoquan Reservoir has many conditions and features that are solely unique to its waters. Some of these features can create difficulties, such as the rough weather spots on the river and frequently changing environmental conditions. However, there are some features on the river, both man-made and natural, to use to stay safe when navigating the Occoquan.
UNDERSTANDING THE GPS MARKERS: Along the entire length of the navigable river, there are large, highly visible number signs placed at intervals along the Fairfax shore (Sandy Run side). Painted yellow, orange or red, these signs are known as GPS Markers and are used to
give very precise information about locations along the river. It is important to become aware of these signs and know where each numbered GPS marker is along the river. In an emergency situation, the GPS marker numbers are the best option for giving this information to get help. Here are some examples of how to give good location information using the GPS markers:
“I am located at GPS marker #11 on the Fairfax shore”
“I am located between GPS marker #4 and 5# on the Prince William shore” “I am located a quarter mile upriver from GPS marker #9 on the Prince William shore”
REMEMBER: Becoming familiar with these markers will insure that, in an emergency situation, you are able to communicate clearly where you are to club members, park staff and emergency personnel.
**A map with the locations of all GPS markers is located in the OBC boathouse**
UNDERSTANDING THE SHORELINE: There may be times when it is necessary to use the shoreline of the Occoquan to help during potential emergencies, such as paddling to the shoreline after a flip or pulling over to the shore to seek shelter from incoming weather. It is important to be familiar with the shoreline and topography of the Occoquan during these situations and to have a personal plan of action prepared. The following describes the shoreline of the Occoquan:
Topography: The topography of the shoreline is constantly changing; shallow, sandy landings can become deep, rocky crags very quickly. However, there is a pattern to the nature of the shoreline and there are very few spots on the Occoquan that do not have stretches of shoreline that are easy and safe to use. Follow these guidelines:
Good shore, Bad shore: Along the Occoquan, stretches of deep/rocky shore and shallow/sandy shore alternate between sides of the river (Fairfax/Prince William). For example, on the straight-away by Oxford House, the Prince William shore is extremely steep with deep water, while the Fairfax shore is shallow with low-lying areas. However, continuing up river around the next turn, these conditions switch, with the Fairfax shore becoming rocky and steep, and Prince William becoming relatively easy shore line.
REMEMBER: Use this pattern to guide you in pre-determining spots on the river shoreline to use in the event of an emergency. For every stretch of the river, have a place in mind in case of capsizing or foul weather.
“WEATHER FRIENDLY” SPOTS ON THE OCCOQUAN: In windy conditions, there are spots on the river that can be sheltered and “weather friendly” alternatives. These spots will change from day to day depending on the direction of the winds. However, there is one spot on the reservoir that provides excellent shelter from high winds all the time, and is a great alternative to rowing on the open waters of the Occoquan.
Sandy Run (“The Cove”): Sandy Run is a small, three-quarter of a mile stretch of water that runs along the western edge of Sandy Run Park. When standing on the main dock while facing the orange launching/docking buoy, Sandy Run begins directly
behind the rower and disappears around a long turn to the left. Sometimes referred to as “the cove,” Sandy Run is narrow, heavily wooded, and hilly on both sides, blocking much of the wind and weather conditions that would make open water very rough and choppy. At the end of Sandy Run is a small traffic bridge spanning the river. It is not recommended to cross underneath this bridge.
REMEMBER: Understand your limits on the water when dealing with high winds and rough water. If conditions look bad on the main Occoquan, consider rowing in Sandy Run. The narrow waters and many turns within Sandy Run provide just as challenging and worthwhile a rowing opportunity as upriver and downriver waters.
The more we know about our “home waters” the more fulfilling our time spent on them will be. Use this information to help you in understanding the Occoquan, rowing safely, knowing your limits - and getting the most out of some of the best rowing waters in the world.