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Don't make these mistakes when having fun on the water over Memorial Day Weekend

Posted at 12:18 PM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-26 06:03:56-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- With Memorial Day just days away, many are planning to head out on the water, and first responders want to make sure you stay safe.

Henrico Fire crews took CBS 6 reporter Caroline Coleburn out on the James River to break down boating and swimming safety.

In order to operate a boat in Virginia, Henrico Fire Batallion Chief Doug Reynolds said you must take a boating safety class, make sure you understand the rules of the water, have personal flotation devices on board for every passenger, and never drink while driving your boat.

Reynolds also wanted people to understand some of those same boating rules apply to kayakers.

"Just because you've got a kayak doesn't mean you can go do whitewater fun right away," said Reynolds. "You've got to build yourself up to that. Check the water levels of the river. Here again, our gold standard is you've got to have that life jacket on at all times. Just be careful, and never go alone."

By law, when water levels are at five feet and above at the Westham Gauge, everyone on the river must wear a life jacket. When levels are nine feet or above, no one is allowed in the river unless you have a high water permit. As of Wednesday morning, river levels were above five feet.

When it comes to swimming on the river this weekend, first responders said swimmers needed to be extra careful.

"You've got to be the old mother hen," Reynolds explained. "You've got to really keep an eye on your kids at all times because the river can be unpredictable. Where it may look nice and peaceful in one spot, a couple feet away, the current really comes through there that can sweep your kids away before you even realize it."

Henrico Fire has three special teams for swift water rescue because each year, more deaths occur because of flooding than any other hazard related to thunderstorms, according to Reynolds.

While Henrico Fire's boat has the ability to fight fires on the water, they hope they don't have to use those nozzles this weekend.

If you see something suspicious or concerning on the river, Reynolds says don't hesitate to call first responders.

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