RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Several Richmond organizations joined together to inform the public of water safety tips for the James River ahead of the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The water safety presentation came after two women were found dead after a group of 12 people went over Bosher’s Dam in Richmond last holiday weekend, on Memorial Day.

The Richmond Fire Department said, historically speaking, it expects to perform more water rescues this year. The department has performed 22 water rescues so far this year and said it averages more than 150 every year.

Brian Dalrymple, Richmond Fire Department captain, said that not all water rescue calls result in an actual rescue and that when the fire department responds to emergencies to rescue people, “typically it’s people who don’t have experience, or they have underestimated the water.”

“Over the years we typically end up rescuing somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-80 people out of this river. Most of those folks, they aren’t experienced paddlers, they are not experienced kayakers, they are folks that just came down, wanted to enjoy a day on the water, wanted to get some sunshine, and didn’t realize they were in over their heads,” Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple said moving water has many dangers to look out for, and if people aren’t aware of that they could get trapped.

“That’s what gets people in trouble,” he explained.

People are required to wear a personal flotation device when the river level is 5 feet or higher. When the river level is above 9 feet, only experienced experts should be on the river, the fire department stated.

“We encourage people to stay off unless you have that kind of paddling experience,” Richmond Fire said.

Penelope Davenport with the City of Richmond Department of Parks Recreation and Community Facilities gave three key water hazards to watch out for in the river:

  • Low Head Dams: Davenport said these are almost impossible to see. She said to not swim over them, and to avoid them at all costs.
  • Strainers: These are river features that look like a big jumble of logs or sticks in the river, and should be avoided. Davenport said they are often found piled up above bridges and against posts.
  • Foot Entrapment: Davenport said this is a primary cause of drowning in the river. To avoid foot entrapment, Davenport said to point your nose and toes at the sky, and lay flat with your feet above the water and pointed downstream in front of you.

Davenport also said to always wear shoes with hard soles, and to familiarize yourself with the section of river you’ll be traveling to. A guide to the James River in Richmond is available here, showing the water level, and all of the sections of the city’s river.