Advice from the marine police patrol on how to stay safe on the river
With triple-digit temperatures ushering in the first week of summer in Sacramento, boaters and swimmers should know how to stay safe on the river, Sacramento police say.
Members of the Police Department's Marine Unit reviewed new requirements and standard precautions on a ride-along Thursday on the Sacramento River.
For starters, new this year, any boat driver under age 20 will need to have a California Boating Card.
It's “similar to a gun license in that it signifies that you’ve taken a safety course,” said Sgt. Jared Kiser of the Marine Unit. The lifetime card will be phased in for all boat drivers by 2025.
The Police Department reminded boaters to be on the watch for swimmers and debris. There are more trees in the water than last year, likely because of high water levels last year, and submerged trunks and branches can extend far below the surface.
Boaters are also required to reduce their speed to 5 mph within 100 feet of any swimmer and within 200 feet of any beach.
“We want fisherman to be able to fish and swimmers to be able to swim,” said Kiser.
Officers patrol the river to keep visitors safe, especially from drowning. There were 12 drowning incidents in 2017, according to Kiser, and a few have already occurred this season as well.
Currents are unpredictable, Kiser said, especially where the American and Sacramento rivers meet.
“The two rivers cause a swirl that you can’t see from above,” said Kiser, explaining that this confluence near Tiscornia Beach and Discovery Park is the site of most of the area's drownings each year.
Kiser warned that river-goers should be careful when cooling off in the water, and reminded the public that life jackets are available at every beach.
While air temperatures will climb above 100 degrees, water temperatures are still in the 50-60 degree range because of continued snowmelt coming down the American River. The cold water can be a shock to anyone diving in, warned Kiser.
Hypothermia can happen in early-season conditions, but the more common risk associated with the river temperatures is the initial shock of cold water, which causes swimmers to struggle.
“You’ve let out all of the air that you had, so you’re struggling to get the air back, but you're also struggling to swim, so you're working harder,” said Kiser.
Another potential hazard is dehydration, especially from drinking alcohol.
“The hot air and the cold water mixed with alcohol will make the alcohol have a much greater effect on you”, explained Kiser. “So what you may be able to drink on a Saturday night will have a bigger effect on you out here on a hot day.”
Sacramento police encouraged the boaters and beach-goers to watch out for signs of heat stroke in themselves and others. Signals include sluggishness, confusion, headache, and feeling too hot or dehydrated.
Kiser’s top tip for enjoying the hot weekend while staying safe: “Respect the heat, respect the cold water and respect the river.”