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'It's unpredictable': Fire officials caution river rafters heading into Summer months

Officials are urging caution on the Bow River and other waterways as people look to find a way to cool off in the warmer weather. (Photo taken during a training exercise with the Calgary Fire Department). CREDIT: Calgary Fire Department

CALGARY — It can happen in one second.

You’re floating down the river in the sunshine — and the next thing you know, you’re in the water.

Officials are urging caution on the Bow River and other waterways as people look to find a way to cool off in the warmer weather.

Carol Henke with the Calgary Fire Department says you just never know what’s underneath the surface.

“All of a sudden you can find yourself tipped over. You’re in the cold water — it’s very cold so you’re going to get a bit of a shock. And not everyone will be able to react quickly, which is why you should be wearing your life jacket because these things, when they happen, are unpredictable,” said Henke.

WATCH: The Calgary Police Service display the importance of being prepared when heading out on the river in the summer. 

She says having the proper raft is also extremely important.

“What we often see is people have those fairly inexpensive rafts that, one puncture of a branch and all of a sudden you’re losing all your air.”

If your craft starts taking on water, you need something to bail with, which is why anyone taking to the water should have a water safety kit.

“Making sure you have water, hats, sunscreen, a cellphone to call for help in case of an emergency and a complete water safety kit. And what that means is, you should have a bailing device, something to remove water that gets inside your craft; a paddle or an oar to help control your craft and steer; a sound-signalling device to help with navigation and alerting others if you approach or in case of an emergency; a heaving rope or towing rope that floats so that you can use it to rescue somebody else or pull your craft to safety. If you’re out on the water at night you should have a navigation or safety light as well.”

And following the rules can save your life.

Henke says wearing a life jacket is the law but you also have to wear one designed for your size, to make sure it will keep you above the surface.

“You must be wearing a life jacket. Not sitting on it. You must be wearing it. And there are other rules as well. Alcohol and drugs are not allowed on the water. And you have to have all the proper safety equipment.”

It may be hard to resist if you’re with a group but Henke says you should never tie your rafts together.

“Those can get stuck on bridge abutments and it’s then when you realize how fast the water is actually flowing and that’s when people get into trouble and our aquatics team gets called to rescue them,” said Henke.

She asks anyone planning to head out onto the river to always check online first to see if there are any boating advisories in effect.

You can head to the city’s website to check flow rates, weather conditions, known hazards on the river, river access, and more — including a list of what you should take to stay safe.