Chesterfield fire crews urge community to practice water safety

Staying safe on Virginia's rivers

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - Chesterfield fire crews are urging the community to practice safety habits when on the water.

This push for water safety comes after five people were rescued from the Appomattox River, near Colonial Heights, last week.

Assistant Fire Chief Matt Coffin said poor planning and inclement conditions caused the small group to be stranded in the middle of the river.

“These folks found themselves in a situation where they did not have enough water for their jet ski to propel itself and get them back to shore safely,” said Coffin.

Coffin said it’s common for crews to be out assisting jet skis, boats and even people who become stranded in the middle of the river.

According to Chesterfield Fire, there have been 33 water rescues in the county since January 2018. Eight of those water rescues involved stranded boaters.

Coffin said knowing your equipment and the waters you’re riding on can prevent an emergency.

“Things like fuel level or turn around time to get back to the place where they put the boat in,” said Coffin.

Like oceans, the James and Appomattox Rivers experiences high and low tides throughout the day. Depending on the day, the river level can fluctuate between 3 to 4 feet along the river, exposing mud that can damage small vessels and be dangerous to walk through.

Channel markers indicate the proper navigable waters, but a boater will need to know how to read those markers.

Additionally, there are several areas within both of these rivers that do not have channel markers, so boaters who do not have a good knowledge of them should not attempt to explore those waters.

“You can get stuck in almost a quicksand-like situation where your feet and your arms and body can get hung up in these areas trying to venture out, and it can really put you in a dangerous situation that goes above and beyond a water craft emergency,” said Coffin.

Coffin said being aware of these factors in addition to having a life jacket and reliable form of communication can ensure that your day on the water doesn’t end in an emergency situation.

We have to be thinking about the worst case scenario even on the most beautiful days on the water," said Coffin.

According to the Boat U.S. Foundation, education is mandatory for Personal Watercraft (PWC) users under the age of 16.

Children ages 14 and 15 may operate a PWC upon successful completion of a boating safety course.

Additionally, upon completion, the 14 or 15-year-old operator must carry proof of successful completion of the course at all times while operating the PWC.

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