The Pelorus Project: Making River Recreation Safer

On June 23, 2015, twenty-four-year-old Sean Hiebel and two friends were kayaking on the Maumee River. The three kayaked over the Hosey Dam and capsized. One of Sean’s friends was pulled into the hydraulic action created by water spilling over the dam and Sean was able to pull him to safety. Tragically, this selfless act was Sean’s last, as he was overcome by the same strong current he just saved his friend from. He and his friends were unaware of the dangers at dams. 

Most dams do not have adequate warnings or public safety measures in place. It is up to the public to become educated on the risks. 

Sean’s family and friends founded The Pelorus Project. By working with multiple agencies, advocacy groups, and concerned citizens we hope to encourage and promote initiatives to make our rivers a safer place for recreation and prevent future tragedies. 

We are working to make river recreation safer.

Our priority is to ensure that everyone who, like Sean, loves the rivers can enjoy them safely. Within two months of Sean’s accident we published and informative brochure. This brochure can be found in brochure boxes at several river access points in Fort Wayne. We have also collaborated with other area organizations to have clear warning signs installed along the river ways. Fort Wayne is the first city in Indiana to implement a low head dam warning sign program, and we look forward this program becoming the standard for the rest of Indiana as well as other states. Click here to find helpful resources for implementing a similar program in your area.

Get Involved Now!

Keep Up

We post events and updates on our Facebook page. We also post updates, links to articles, and other helpful information on this site. Check out some of those articles below! Not seeing the post you were looking for? Click here to visit our archive.

WFYI Documentary: “Over, Under, Gone: The Killer in Our Rivers”

WFYI (Indianapolis’s local NPR & PBS branch) worked with us and others around Indiana to put together a documentary chronicling the dangers of low-head dams. You can check it out by clicking here. Thank you, WFYI, for putting this together and helping spread the word!

View Our Brochure

One of the first things The Pelorus Project team did was create a brochure that explains the dangers of low-head dams. You can download that brochure by clicking here. Feel free to share it with any river lovers you know.

Dam Safety Signage Installed on Fort Wayne Rivers

We collaborated with several other area organizations to create and install signage along the Fort Wayne area rivers. These signs warn people on the river of approaching hazards and direct them toward river exits to avoid those hazards. You can read more over at The Journal Gazette.

Over One Million Dollars in Grants for Indiana LARE Projects

We are excited to see that the DNR is issuing funds to help mitigate risks along our rivers. You can read more on Fox 59’s website, but here is the part we are excited about: “Two projects will remove obsolete low-head dams on Little River and the Tippecanoe River. Removing dams that serve no current purpose improves stream habitat and allows fish and other aquatic animals to reconnect to upstream areas. Removing dams also eliminates recreational hazards. Multiple drownings occur at low-head dams throughout the country each year.”

TRAILER: WFYI’s Documentary, “Over, Under, Gone: The Killer in Our Rivers”

Check out this promo for the documentary, “Over, Under, Gone – The Killer in Our Rivers”, premiering November 21 at 9pm on WFYI TV, Indy!

We have five basic initiatives.

Inform

Provide information and map, at river access points, of the hazards one can face while recreating on the rivers and ways to stay safe.

Protect

Partner with multiple agencies, advocacy groups, and concerned citizens to implement a warning system including signs, buoys, and alerts on water conditions for Fort Wayne rivers.

Advocate

Partner with local river advocates to incorporate public safety in the development of waterway trails.

Plan

Partner with Fort Wayne Riverfront Development team members to incorporate public safety in the development plan and safe river recreation opportunities.

Risk Mitigation

Promote and advocate for efforts to categorize, and prioritize low-head dam removals and for targeted risk mitigation projects throughout Indiana.

There are varying ways communities address their low head dams…

Unacceptable – No warnings signs, or small, inadequate signs that do not express the drowning hazard. Lack of river exits at a safe distance from dams. Unfortunately, this is the case for most low head dams.

Minimum – Appropriately sized warning signs at dams that express the extreme drowning hazard.

Good – Warning sign and buoy program that includes signage well upstream of the dams, exclusion zones around dams, marked portage trails for exiting the river ahead of dams or other dangerous parts of the river, and point-of-access river safety information.

Better – Physical alteration of dams, like rock ramps, to eliminate the hydraulic effect.*

Best – Complete removal of the dam and restoration of the river. Dams have significant negative impacts on the health of rivers and the wildlife in the rivers. Following removal and restoration efforts, rivers revert back to a healthy state, and wildlife begins to flourish very quickly.*

Beyond – As part of a removal and restoration effort, many communities are investing in the creation of whitewater parks. These attractions offer economic and quality of life benefits for these communities.*

Click here for a great example of a whitewater park.

*A comprehensive safety signage program is still necessary for areas that are working toward Better, Best, or Beyond options, and should remain in place until the hazard has been eliminated.

Public Safety and Outreach Resources

Low Head Dam Signage

We strongly encourage use of the same image, colors, wording, and tag line to help promote and establish a standard for signage that is recognizable by river recreation enthusiasts across multiple communities and regions. You can download the signage by clicking here (vertical) and here (horizontal).

Signage Standard

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has developed a comprehensive and effective low head dam signage standard that we recommend being adopted in any community or region looking to implement public safety measures where low head dams are present. Using this along with the recirculating victim infographic and #DamDangerous tag line is a great way to achieve a cohesive and effective message. Click here to download the manual.

Fort Wayne Signage

Inspired by the Iowa standard, we worked with Indiana groups including the Indiana DNR, Indiana Department of Homeland Security, NIRCC, Tri-State Watershed Alliance, and the City of Fort Wayne determine sign locations, size, and wording. The sign’s infographic and #DamDangerous tag line were developed as part of a collaborative effort by the Indiana Silver Jackets team members.

Signage Price List

Click here to download a file that includes the list of signs created for the Fort Wayne area, with location specific messages, sign and lettering sizes, and sign material. Signs in this list ranged in price from $45 to $140 depending on size.

Area Map of Low Head Dams

Indiana state officials have worked dilligently to create an inventory of low head dams in Indiana and now have this map depicting their locations. Click here to download the map.

Over, Under, Gone: The Killer in Our Rivers

This documentary is a great way to educate friends and family, community groups, schools, and dam owners about the dangers of low head dams. At approximately 30 minutes in length, it’s easy to fit into most schedules. You can watch it online, buy the DVD, or contact Clayton Taylor to buy in bulk for your own outreach and awareness efforts.

Useful Links and Suggestions

Click here to download a checklist of suggestions for who you should reach out to in your community to help implement safety measures, create and install signage programs, and work on dam removal or mitigation projects. This document also contains useful, informative links.

Don’t Croak on the Rivers

This publication is a fun and concise way to depict the hazards people can encounter when recreating on rivers. Perfect for handing out at river related events or printing a large poster for display. Click here to download the Don’t Croak infographic.

Dam Dangerous Life Saver Pledge

Download and print these files to use at river related events as an outreach and teaching tool. Kids and adults read and sign the pledge sheet, then get a card with a copy of the pledge. Attaching Lifesavers candies to the makes it a treat as well. Click here to download the Life Saver Pledge and click here to download the printable pledge cards.

Contact Us

Want to get involved? Want to know more? Simply fill out the contact form below and we will get back to you as soon as we can!