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'If it floats we consider it a boat': residents reminded to use the North Saskatchewan River safely this summer

The City of Edmonton, Devon and Fort Saskatchewan, along with local emergency organizations, are reminding residents to be safe when on or near the North Saskatchewan River this summer.

“Over the last two years we’ve seen a significant increase in usage of the North Saskatchewan River, and with hot weather continuing this year, we expect the trend to continue,” Zain Haji with the City of Edmonton’s Park Ranger Marine Unit told reporters on Thursday.

More than 7,500 safety compliance checks were completed in 2022, Haji said.

"Nearly half of the vessels and river users we encountered were not in compliance with boating regulations."

Transport Canada regulations require river users with a vessel of any kind to have the required safety equipment on board, including a personal floatation device (PFD) for each person, a throw bag, and a whistle or sounding device.

Any vessel found without PFDs will be directed to leave the water for the safety of those on board, and users could face steep fines.

"The fines are under the Canada Shipping Act. Minimum fine for not having a personal floatation device is about $250, and it is a federal charge," said Haji, adding there could be an additional $250 fine imposed for every piece of safety equipment missing from the vessel.

Officials are reminding river users that vessels aren't limited to boats, inner tubes, paddle boards, air mattresses, and floating islands are all considered vessels.

"If it floats we consider it a boat, and if it’s a boat then you need to have the required equipment," said Const. Jeff Eichmann of the Edmonton Police Service Marine Unit.

"According to the Canadian Life Saving Society, their 2020 stats, 30 per cent of the drownings in Alberta happened on rivers. Eighty five per cent of the boating drownings, they are people not wearing life jackets," Eichmann said.

"Rivers can be really dangerous. It’s not like a lake with still water. It’s fast moving water, it’s unpredictable."

He said river users should not be consuming alcohol on the river.

"You can’t be drinking when you’re on a vessel. It’s against the law."

"If we see them drinking on the river we will be getting rid of the alcohol."

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services rescued 75 people in or near the river last summer.

The Park Ranger Marine unit also conducted 11 rescues.

As of May 18, EFRS had already participated in 44 rescue events on or near water in Edmonton this year.

"Drownings are some of the most difficult events to respond to and they are totally preventable," said Ed Pitman, Acting Chief of Special Operations with EFRS.

Pitman said if you get into trouble on the river, it could take as long as 30 minutes for rescue crews to reach you, depending on your location.

Finding someone in trouble is also a challenge for rescuers, which is why Pitman says wearing a life jacket is so important.

"We're a surface rescue team. We don't have dive capability, we don’t have search capability, so if someone is submerged, it’s going to be very difficult to find them."

All of the officials encourage river users to have all required emergency gear on board when you head out, make a plan and let someone know when you're heading down to the water and when you plan to return, and to be safe while on board.

Units from several agencies in and around Edmonton will be on the river this summer educating boaters on river safety and enforcing bylaws.

"We want people to have fun on the river, so we want to educate them. Our main concern is education, and if we have to do enforcement, we will," said Eichmann.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jessica Robb Top Stories


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