Amanda Halsmer waves

Amanda Halsmer waves as she heads down the Yellowstone River behind Jimmy Saldana at the Duck Creek bridge Monday afternoon.

CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

It's forecast to be a sizzler this week, and the Yellowstone River beckons like a cool drink of water. 

So be careful, public safety officials say. 

The Yellowstone is nowhere near flood stage, but it's still running higher than the average for this time of year. That means water is still mountain cold and moving quickly, said Larry Dooley with the National Weather Service in Billings. 

The Yellowstone is running at a depth of 7.3 feet. The average for the first week of July is 5 feet of depth. Flood stage is 13.5 feet, Dooley said. 

Last week, the river was running at a depth of 10 feet. So it's dropped a bit, Dooley said. 

"But it's still flowing pretty good," he said. "It's still a very dangerous river."

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Luke Saldana and Panda

Luke Saldana and Panda float down the Yellowstone River at the Duck Creek bridge Monday.

In 2015 and 2016, the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office was called out to four river rescues each year. On some of those calls, the Lockwood Fire District assists. 

Capt. Keith Kober with Lockwood Fire said following a few basic tips will help people stay safe as they float the river and help them avoid having to call 911.

The first is obvious. 

"Make sure (you've) got life jackets on," he said. 

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Yellowstone float

Luke Saldana, left, Amanda Halsmer, center and Jimmy Saldana prepare to float down the Yellowstone River at the Duck Creek bridge Monday afternoon

If something goes awry, a properly worn life vest is likely your best chance for surviving, he said. 

It's only illegal to drink on the river while using a motorized watercraft. Cracking open a beer while on a tube or a raft is legal. 

Still, Kober said, "use good common sense."

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A boat heads down the Yellowstone River

A boat heads down the Yellowstone River at the Duck Creek bridge Monday, July 3, 2017.

Finally, he cautions folks floating the river to make sure they put on plenty of sunscreen. There's little cloud coverage in the forecast for the next five days and it's easy to burn while drifting down the river. 

It's possible to have fun and be smart, Kober said. 

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.