After seven people drowned in the Delaware River in less than a month, local officials are pleading with swimmers and boaters to wear properly fitted, Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
Six of the deaths occurred in the river between Sullivan and Orange counties in New York and Pike County in Pennsylvania. One claimed the life of a kayaker, and the other six were swimmers.
The heavy rains of the past month have made the river especially high, fast, and dangerous.
“There is one common denominator in almost all of these tragedies,” said Sullivan County Sheriff Mike Schiff, who has teamed up with other local officials to get out an urgent message on water safety. “Just about everyone who drowned on the Delaware River was not wearing their PFD.”
“It seems like every day we’re responding to another drowning along the Delaware, which takes a tremendous toll not only on the families and friends of the victims but the first responders,” said Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Robert A. Doherty, whose district includes a significant swath of the river. “Mother Nature is merciless with people who don’t take the proper precautions, and when it comes to fast-moving water like the Delaware River, that means wearing a life jacket, no matter how good a swimmer you think you are.”
The Delaware River has strong currents, slippery surfaces and sharp drop-offs. The public is reminded and strongly urged to never attempt to swim across the river, against the current or alone. Always know your points on and off the river and let someone else know of your plans. Abstain from alcohol, which increases the risk of accident and death.
“This is a hazardous river with sudden drop-offs throughout the corridor,” said Rick Lander of Lander’s River Trips. “Most drownings on the river are swimming related. Those who are not good swimmers should especially wear one, and even those who do not plan to swim should still always wear their life jackets.”
“I put thousands of people on the river each year,” said Yulan Fire Department First Assistant Chief Keith Blaut. “The number one thing we tell them is to wear a life jacket at all times.”
The National Park Service says people should never swim alone and not try to fight the current. “If you step into deep water, float with the current until you are able to swim toward the shore,” the park service says. “A life jacket, throw line, and first aid kits are recommended.” All children 12 and under are required to wear their life jackets when boating on the river.
A life jacket tied to a boat cannot save your life, the park service says. It offers the following advice in an emergency. “If your boat capsizes, be ready to help yourself. Keep upstream of the craft; float on your back with your feet forward and close to the surface to fend off any rocks. Never stand up in fast-moving water; your feet or legs could become trapped, allowing the current to push you under. Release your boat only if it improves your safety. A canoe, even filled with water, is a good floatation device, but be sure to stay upstream of your vessel. The force of the water can easily pin a person between their vessel and a river obstacle.”
“I put thousands of people on the river each year. The number one thing we tell them is to wear a life jacket at all times.” Yulan Fire Department First Assistant Chief Keith Blaut