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Staying safe on the river

By Caitlin Kehoe

This past Saturday, I spent the afternoon with close friends enjoying one of my favourite summertime activities — floating in a tube down the Pembina River in Entwistle.

The sun was hot, the water was cool and the scenery was beautiful. We relaxed, shared some laughs and, though the float took about 2.5 hours, it seemed like it ended too soon. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend that you do!

Though I was tired by the end of the afternoon, I was satisfied with a successful day on the river. Not every float is successful, though.

In July of last year, seven young women missed their exit point and floated downriver for hours as their raft deflated. Each of the bikini-clad women was at risk of hypothermia and one was airlifted to a nearby ambulance to be treated for severe dehydration. The entire grueling ordeal lasted about 16 hours, including a risky 10-hour helicopter rescue.

According to the RCMP, similar scenarios happen every year. Being unprepared for large amounts of time spent on the river — or any body of water — can leave you vulnerable to significant risks.

But you can learn how to avoid them.



Fuel up: There’s no such thing as a quick float down the river, so eat a good meal before you head out. Water is also a must: bring a bottle with you whether you’re hitting the river or the lake.

Save your own skin: Spending sweltering summer days on the river or at the beach is a great way to beat the heat. But water reflects harmful UV rays, which significantly increases your chances of burning. Sunburns hurt, so do yourself a favour — lather up with sunscreen before you hit the water and reapply throughout the day. Your skin will thank you!

Leave it behind: Rivers are notorious for taking objects and not giving them back. Nothing is safe! If possible, leave valuables in a locked vehicle, especially if an item is not easily replaced or has sentimental value. Loose shoes are easily lost, too, so make sure they’ll stay put. Walking barefoot on the rocky riverbed is about as fun as it sounds.

Know where you are: This is so important! When you are in unfamiliar territory, listen to your guides/lifeguards if there are any. If you’re floating, know the landmarks around your chosen exit point. Don’t let time get away from you — the only thing worse than being lost during the day is being lost at night.



Stay safe and enjoy your time on the water!

What are some of your most memorable moments spent at the beach or the river? Do you have any safety tips to share with us? Leave a comment or tweet us @HeadsUpAB!

2 Responses to “Staying safe on the river”

  1. No life jackets on in the photos (or mention in the text)? In Calgary, I think failing to wear a life jacket is a mandatory court appearance. I don’t know about other areas of the province, but it just seems like a good practice regardless. People can really underestimate their swimming abilities, especially if they’ve been out in the sun too long, become dehydrated, are in unfamiliar areas or snuck in a few discrete ‘beverages’. I think I’m a pretty average swimmer but after experiencing leg muscle cramping in cold water (without a life jacket), I will now always wear one.

  2. Hi Nicole,
    That’s a great point! A life jacket is an important piece of safety equipment when on the water. Thank you for sharing your experience and information.

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