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Dock Street Dam Death Trap

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Dangerous for both rescuers and recreational water lovers, the Dock Street Dam on the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, PA was designed for multiple purposes. The Dock Street Dam was built in 1913 and was intended to create a lake, provide floor control, prevent stagnant water from being a mosquito breeding ground, and minimize odors from sewage. While the dam may have successfully created a 3-mile, very attractive lake, it also created a death trap.

The Dock street dam is what is known as a low head dam, which creates a very dangerous hydraulic condition. The hydraulic condition causes a strong recirculating current that can trap and drown its victims.

If you are unaware of this hazard you can easily become a victim. The Dock Street Dam has claimed the lives of both rescuers and recreational water lovers alike.

(Photo Credit Sean Simmers and

Research indicates 30 different recorded deaths that happened at the Dock Street Dam. The dam creates a boil line which can be seen in the photo above. The water is aerated as it spills over the dam. This changes the density of the water and will cause a person to sink regardless of whether or not they have on a PFD and can even pull boats under. After the person or boat is pushed out and and back to the top they get sucked under again. The dam has also led to the deaths of good Samaritans who have attempted to rescue victims. The power of water is something that needs to be recognized and respected. Even the most talented swimmers are not likely able to compete with these dams.

According to research the majority of victims have been fishermen, followed by other recreational kayakers and swimmers.

(Photo Credit: and The Patriot News.)

What you see the above pictured fisherman doing is illegal and dangerous. Luckily for him the water level was low on this particular day.

Warning signs on bridges and buoys are in place to mark the hazard. However if you don't understand the seriousness of the warning, aren't paying attention due to intoxication or other distractions or just aren't educated on the subject matter the warning devices in place will do no good. (Above and below photo credit: (

In the above photo a child's life jacket can be seen in the deadly hydraulic cycle.

On May 7th, 2018 a tragic and deadly incident occurred involving the loss of a 3-year-old child and the fiancée of the boat driver, Cody Binkley. Binkley, who was faced with criminal charges due to smoking marijuana the day of the accident and other factors, was shown mercy by the court and family members. In the wake of Binkley's case it became a law to require enhanced warning mechanisms be installed. This law requires installation of warning buoys on both sides of the dam. The Dock Street Dam now has warning buoys on both sides of the dam, along with LED strobe lights.

The moral of this post is don't go over, or even near, low head dams. Be familiar with the water you are on and the area you are in. Know what warning buoys and signs mean. Don't be intoxicated while on the water. Don't become an additional victim attempting to make a rescue.

Pennsylvania has over 300 similar dams which are now obsolete. In the past such dams were used to support factories and local mills.

Sources for this blog include:

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