The Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office shared an Instagram post on Wednesday (6/9) involving a successful river rescue. The incident appears to have occurred just downstream from the popular Duck Creek area west of Billings. According to the post, the department responded to the 911 call and was able to effectively retrieve the unnamed couple, utilizing a boat crew and the military surplus helicopter the department acquired in 2020.

Undersheriff Sam Bofto told us that they respond to at least half a dozen river rescues each year, with nearly all of them on the Yellowstone River. The agency frequently works with Billings Fire Department, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and even ExxonMobile (the company has water rescue boats, equipment, and personnel available to assist).

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Bofto said the rescues are usually a direct result of people boating or floating during spring runoff. Oftentimes with floatation devices not meant for powerful water; like pool floaties, inexpensive rafts, or kayaks. The Sheriff's Office reminds the public that the river contains a lot of dangerous debris this time of year, much of it invisible in the murky water. Boaters should exercise caution.

Michael Foth - Townsquare Media
Michael Foth - Townsquare Media

Many local floaters say "Don't do it" until 4th of July Weekend.

The 4th of July isn't some magical day where the river suddenly becomes safe, but many floaters say that late June/early July is traditionally when the water levels drop as spring runoff tapers. The water clears and most of the river becomes substantially safer for recreation. Unless you have a powerful jet boat (and experience) you probably shouldn't be on the Yellowstone River right now. The Stillwater is likely running quite high now too.

Know before you go.

Danger on the water can happen fast, and by the time you find yourself snagged, trapped or stranded, it's far too late to prepare. Sunshine Sports, a Billings raft and kayak company, said they issue important guidance to every new customer. describes some of the Yellowstone River conditions and hazards from Yellowstone Park to the North Dakota border, noting,

While there are no major rapids between Livingston and Columbus, there are many areas that have strong riffles and small waves. Downstream from Columbus, there is one final strong rapid that ranges from Class II to a weak Class III, depending again on river levels.

Beyond Billings, the Yellowstone River is generally calm, although boaters and floaters should be aware of several diversion dams.

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