Every summer when the temperature gets hot enough, young people bring their tubes and inflatable pool toys – and usually beers – to float down the Chilliwack-Vedder River.
People cool off, enjoy the sun, have fun, and usually the day ends just fine.
But floating down this river with the massive amount of every-changing wood debris is incredibly dangerous, and there are countless incidents of people getting into trouble.
On July 15, someone posted a video of two people falling off a pool floatie and desperately hanging on to the wood logs. They ended up making it OK, but the person who posted it on Facebook, Connor Visagie, said they weren’t the only people to get into trouble.
“Seven people were caught under this log jam just on Sunday alone even after being flagged down and being told so get off your tube and go to the right,” he wrote.
Visagie said he spent hours on the river flagging people down and directing them to a safer route, even going so far as to make a sign.
For Chilliwack Search and Rescue (CSAR) search manager Doug Fraser the video is “scary,” “frustrating” and, “typical.”
“There are constant safety messages being promoted and it seems people continue to be ignorant of it or perhaps choose to ignore it thinking that the river is harmless,” Fraser said.
Fraser said CSAR may not be called out very often to rescue people in situations such as the one depicted in the video but those instances happen frequently.
“In most cases, people can self rescue or they have bystanders that come to their aid,” he said. “You just have to look at any hot summer day and you can count the number of people coming down the river.”
So what’s so dangerous about floating down the river?
First of all, the huge volume of wood in that river means there are countless opportunities to have what is essentially an inflatable toy popped by a branch.
Then there are the “strainers” or the “sweepers.” A sweeper is a single log that can knock someone off a tube, and a strainer is a collection of logs, sometimes including root balls, that catches tubes and floaties and people, forcing them under water.
Essentially there is no way to float down the river safely unless you are in a river-approved watercraft, with a life jacket, helmet and, hopefully, you have swift water awareness training, according to Fraser.
“It’s inherently dangerous,” Fraser said. “They are taking a significant risk every time they go out.”
He added that he’s not sure if the activity is becoming more or less common, but what is increasing is the sharing on social media of gatherings.
“Floating down the river has always been popular, but one thing that I would say that is definitely increasing, and it’s troubling, is advertised meetups or events to have a whole large group of people go for a float. That concerns me a great deal.”