Life jackets required on the James River throughout Labor Day weekend


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Many people were enjoying the James River on Sunday – relaxing and having fun during the long Labor Day weekend. But with water levels over 5 feet, the Richmond Fire Department encourages river-goers to learn proper safety procedures before they consider hopping on a kayak or going for a swim.

The Fire Department tweeted a reminder on Saturday evening warning people about water safety – personal flotation devices are a must when entering the James River when it is above 5 feet. Personal flotation devices (PFDs) are the technical term used for life jackets.

Earlier in the day on Saturday, RFD rescued four people who were stuck on a rock on the James River after the entered the river on inflated tubes.

Information about water levels on the James River is monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and available to check online. The Richmond-Westham gauge is a good indicator of water levels in popular places such as Huguenot Flatwater, Pony Pasture, Reedy Creek and Belle Isle. According to NOAA, the James River around Richmond is forecast to remain above 5 feet through September 9, the last day that forecast information is available.

Lt. Chris Armstrong, from the Richmond Fire Department, said that his agency has stationed water rescue teams along Belle Isle on Saturdays, Sundays and holiday Mondays, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, in an effort to have emergency services closer to highly-concentrated foot-traffic areas. The water rescue teams are in position from 1 to 5 p.m. because those times are generally known to be the most active.

And today, many people were out bicycling and walking along the bridges — while others decided to take advantage of being in the water on a nice day.

At Waterfront RVA, you can learn how to kayak and paddle board as a beginner on the river — and Gina Adler says it is a good place to get acclimated to being out on the James safely.

“The public needs to be aware of checking before they come out,” Adler said. “The park system does a nice job of putting up all their markers and all their safety precautions to discourage people from swimming when it’s not safe. At this current level, they do require that you have a PFD on when you are in the water.”

She said that people also shouldn’t be discouraged from coming to learn due to COVID-19, as they regularly clean and sanitize their rafts and oars — as well as the fact that being on the river is a naturally socially-distant activity.

“I think here we have done a nice job of sanitizing the equipment, providing an outdoor environment with plenty of space between you and your neighbor and someone you may or not know. And of course us as well,” Adler said.

Genesis Morman, a new employee of the facility, says he learned out to swim before joining as an intern just so he could work doing something he loves with his mentor, Ben.

“He showed me how to do it and I was like you know what this is a great opportunity I need to tell more people about this I need to get more people out here,” Morman said.


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