Beware of the mighty James this time of year

Posted at 11:54 PM, Jun 01, 2013
and last updated 2013-06-02 06:43:33-04

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) -- The river rescue team for Richmond Fire put boats in the water near Hollywood Rapids Saturday to help a stranded swimmer who was stuck out on the rocks.

The woman was helped back to shore safely, but on one of the first hot weekends of the year, hundreds still flocked to James to enjoy the day.

However, local experts say this time of the year the James' current is swift enough to easily sweep the strongest swimmers down stream.

"You don't realize how strong the current is.  It can be up to 5,000 cubic feet per second this time of the year," said Anne-Catherine Jansen, who works as a river guide for River City Rafting.

Jansen said the force of 5,000 cubic feet per second to someone in the water feels like the force of 5,000 basketballs flowing passed.

In her 27 years rafting the James, Jansen has helped out her fair share of stranded swimmers.

"A couple of times a year we usually end up helping out someone who got caught up in the current that didn't realize it was there," Jansen said.

Class four and, at times, class five rapids roar down portions of the James near downtown.  Jansen said some of those dangerous rapids are only feet away from the shore.

"If you see something flowing really fast next to you on the river, that's probably not a place where you want to be out on your own," said Jansen.  "Especially, not in something like a floaty you took from your pool or bought at Wal-Mart."

On Saturday, the water level at the Westham gauge of the James measured below five feet, which means wearing a life jacket was not required to enter the water.

For weaker swimmers, Jansen said it is still important to bring a personal flotation device to the river. Also, when walking through the water, taking each step with caution will help limit the potential for slipping.

"It can be safe; it can be dangerous.  It all depends on how you approach it, and how you educated yourself about it [the James]," said Jansen.