Summer is officially here. Here's how you can stay safe on the water this season.

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Jun 20, 2024

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Happy first (official) day of summer! There's no better way to celebrate the natural beauty of Central Virginia this time of year than to head to the jewel that is the James River.

This is also the perfect time to remind everyone enjoying the water about the steps you can take to ensure everyone enjoys the water safely, according to Assistant Chief Mark Cumashot with Henrico County Fire.

“When folks hear summer, they think, ‘Why don’t I enjoy the water!’ The Richmond area is built around the James River, and the ponds and pools that we have available to us," Cumashot said. “The problem is it’s not when you’re doing well, it’s what your ability to swim when you’re not doing well: when you’re impaired, when you’re injured.”

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Mark Cumashot

Often times when someone gets in trouble while enjoying the water, Cumashot said water levels change quicker than expected or the person is not familiar with the river. The best layer of protection is a life jacket or personal flotation device that has been inspected for damage beforehand.

Life jackets should be inspected for damage to the seams or padding that appears cracked or brittle.

“This is your first and can be your final layer of protection to ensure that you enjoy today and you stick around to enjoy tomorrow," Cumashot said. "Too many times, we hold onto a PFD longer than we should. For recreational use, we encourage five to ten years looking at replacing it.”

Planning ahead can be a lifesaver. Having a charged phone or device on hand to call for help throughout the day and bringing more supplies than you think you need can be critical.

"If you’re new to the water, you might not know exactly where you’re at, but if you have that cell phone, we’ll be able to pinpoint your location," Cumashot said about the importance of a communication plan.

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"Say you’re out enjoying the water, the tide goes down, now you’re stuck on a sand bar. That one or two hours that you were planning on spending on the water, now turns into four, five, or six," Cumashot said.

Henrico Fire staffs their water rescue team during what they call "peak presence" hours when there are undoubtedly going to be a lot of people out swimming, fishing, and boating.

Having dedicated personnel on the water during peak hours of use makes it easier for them to quickly respond to water incidents when seconds can matter in a big way.

There is a coordinated, multi-agency response plan in place since the James River runs through so many different cities and counties and presents a wide variety of terrain.

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Statistically speaking, Henrico rescue crews see a higher concentration of calls in the lower portion of the James, down from the city of Richmond. Their units cover nearly 30 miles of the river when combining the sections above and below the city.

"You’ll see us get more calls down in that deep bottom, gravel pit area just because that’s where the concentration of the population is," Cumashot said.

It's important to call for help earlier than you think you should when out on the water, Cumashot said, but respecting the power of the water is always the best protection.

"You’ll see us get more calls down in that deep bottom, gravel pit area just because that’s where the concentration of the population is," Cumashot said. “When you start to get in trouble, it’s okay to call for us.”

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