Local officials have words of caution as ‘Float Down’ looms on August 19

Canadian Coast Guard and partners, even while urging people not to participate, are 'strongly encouraging' precautions be taken

Local first responders and law enforcement are preparing for the annual unsanctioned Float Down event on the St. Clair River Sunday August 19. The Canadian Coast Guard, the United States Coast Guard, Lambton OPP, Sarnia Police Service, the Point Edward volunteer fire department, RCMP and CBSA officials finalized their response plans at the Coast Guard office on Exmouth Street in Sarnia on Wednesday August 8. Here, Canadian Coast Guard Search and Rescue program officers Irene Barriault and Greg Birdsell review a chart of the St. Clair River with Sarnia Police Service Deputy Chief Owen Lockhart and Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary District 3 director Clive Worton. Photo courtesy of Carol Launderville.

Each year an unsanctioned “Float Down” from the U.S. side of the St. Clair River has authorities on both sides of the international border paying attention, especially in the aftermath of the event two years ago when a heavy downpour pushed hundreds of people to the Canadian side, with 1,500 people requiring assistance.

A year later, in 2017, dozens of Canadians joined in the annual event, entering the water in Point Edward north of the Blue Water Bridge.

This year, as the event is being advertised on Facebook for Sunday, August 19, 2018, the Canadian Coast Guard and other authorities, including the U.S. Coast Guard, are doing their best to get the word out. Both authorities, plus representatives from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ontario Provincial Police and Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, and fire departments in Sarnia and Point Edward, say they will be ready to step forward if needed.

Under the authority of Transport Canada, vessel traffic restrictions will be in effect on the day of the event from noon until 8 p.m.

The risk of having a motorized vessel collide with a floater is too high to have traffic in the float down zone, say officials.

As first responders, the Canadian Coast Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard are recommending that people do not take part in the event.

“If you choose to participate, you are strongly encouraged to take several precautions,” according to a Canadian Coast Guard representative.

Those precautions include:

—Wearing a properly fitting and approved life jacket or personal flotation device. Not wearing a life jacket is one of the leading causes of drowning-related deaths in Canada. While responders did see more people wearing lifejackets last year than in previous years, most participants were not wearing them.

—Do not drink alcohol. Swimming and drinking do not fix. Because floats can collapse in an instant, it is important to have your wits about you if your float capsizes.

—Have a communications device (mobile phone) with you and have it secured in a watertight container.

—If you see another participant needing help or in distress, notify a responder as soon as possible.

—An empty flotation device signifies to responders that someone may be missing from that float. Many unnecessary searches have occurred due to unmanned inflatables in the event. By marking your name and cell phone number in waterproof ink on your float you can help responders track you down. Please take your float with you when you exit the river.

First Responders, officials remind us, are not an unlimited resource. “Responders are busy all day helping people,” said a media briefing. “It is the floater’s responsibility to do everything they can to increase their survival time while they wait for help, and one of the best ways to do that is to wear a life jacket.”

Officials also remind us that the fast-moving current of the St. Clair River is not suited for uncontrollable crafts without paddles. Paddles will help you steer your float and can also be used as a signalling device.

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