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Life Jacket Program Optimizes Water Safety
life vest
A Life Jacket Loaner program offers unprepared visitors to the Stanislaus River the ability to place safety first at all times. River experts recommend that visitors to the river wear a safety jacket whenever they are in or around the water. Teresa Hammond/The Leader

As Valley temperatures begin to rise, so does the number of visitors to the Stanislaus River. And while the setting is beautiful it can also be dangerous.

“My really firm statement is cold, swift, water needs to be respected,” Knights Ferry Recreation Park Manager with the Army Corps of Engineers, Heather Wright shared.

Maintaining river safety, as well as educating visitors about the water is something Wright and her team takes seriously. As someone who enjoyed the river herself in her youth, Wright feels it’s important for people to understand this is not the same river of 30 years ago.

“This is a boating river, it’s not a swimming river,” she said. “It’s not like it used to be before the dam was built. This is a dynamic changing organism. This is not a lake.”

There have already been rescues on the river this season; a kayaker also reported seeing a person in the river near Knights Ferry on Monday morning. A search with boats, drones and a helicopter did not result in rescuers finding anyone; crews returned to the area on Tuesday morning with three boats to search from Knights Ferry to Orange Blossom but no additional information was available by press time.

As a boating river, Wright reminds everyone that it is a law for children 12 years and younger to have a life jacket on at all times. While this may be viewed as a law only necessary when on the water, the Park Manager shared it’s equally important when alongside of the river.

“For people who don’t swim it’s unthinkable to be near the water without a life jacket,” she said. “You don’t know when you’re going to see something that scares you, is a concern to you or another person in your party or family and you react without thinking and then you’re a victim also.”

Fortunately for those unprepared the park has a Life Jacket Loaner Program in place to help curtail/eliminate accidents and risks of the unprepared being unsafe. Life Jacket Loaner Stations are located at Knights Ferry, Orange Blossom and McHenry Avenue Recreation Areas.

“Anybody can take them and use them,” Wright said of the vests. “It is our will and desire that they return them.”

If used for water floating, vests may be returned at any of the noted stations; the park team sees that the stations are properly equipped to accommodate visitors. Wright also cautions that pool toys, inner tubes and the like are not proper river vessels. Visitors should only use Coast Guard approved life jackets and vessels such as kayaks and rafts.

With a wet winter and a lot of snow pack still to come, the river veteran noted that while 300 cubic feet per second is ideal, the 2019 flow will be well above this on any given day. Water enthusiasts should check the flow before arriving to properly prepare, as well as evaluate if they’re properly equipped. Area rafting companies play a great part in keeping rafters safe, as well as educated throughout the high water season.

“Wearing a life jacket is the only preventative thing offered currently,” Wright said. “Recognize it’s a river, it’s dynamic and changing all the time. Currently there is an extreme amount of water.”

Just like the ocean, the river has dynamic changes which can not be predicted on an hour to hour basis. Water safety is the only wise preventative visitors may utilize to prevent becoming another river statistic. Life vests worn along the shore are equally important.

“The thing I would really want people to know is it’s cold, swift water and it needs to be respected, please respect it and do everything you can,” Wright said of the river. “If you’re going to go in, you need to be able to self-rescue. And if you can’t you have no business being on the water. I care about this place and these people. It matters to me.”

To gain information on current water flows visit Dream Flows, ca.gov.com or stanislausriver.com.