Follow the rules to stay safe on the James River

Posted at 5:48 PM, May 28, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-28 18:09:41-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Hundreds turned out to enjoy Memorial Day on the James River Monday, but fire officials said a fun day on the water can quickly turn dangerous.

As a result, Richmond police are reminding folks that they must wear life jackets when the James is above 5 feet.

Gregory and Shera Nelson, who were on the James River Monday, said it is a rule they always follow.

"It sort of like when you play in a rough spot, you never know, you could go over,” said Gregory Nelson.

Shera Nelson told CBS 6 New's Sandra Jones that it is very important for rivergoers to make sure the lifesaving devices fit property. 

"You got to be sure, even though it's kind of comfortable, when it's loose.  But you don't want it too loose because it's not going to do you any good,” said Shera Nelson.

The couple said the life jackets are so important because even though the river may appear calm, it could turn deadly in an instant.

"If nothing else, it makes you a little bit more secure while you're playing.  So, you can play harder or tackle something a little rougher,” said Gregory Nelson.

However, many people, including Kathleen Kelso, jumped in the river Monday without wearing a life jackets.

"I had one on earlier but it's one of the rental ones," said Kelso. "It was too big and when I was in the water it was up to my ears.  So, I had to take it off.”

Kelso admitted that it is not an excuse for not wearing one, but said that she is a strong swimmer, so that it isn't a problem for her.

However, law enforcement officials said people who do not wear a life jacket, regardless of swimming experience, are breaking the law.

Fire officials said life jackets are required because when water levels in the river rise, currents becomes much stronger and the water moves faster. 

In fact, nine people had to be rescued from the river on Memorial Day.