Water safety tips: What to do if you fall into a fast-moving river

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Warmer weather in Utah means runoff from melting snow — and that runoff can create dangerous situations with fast-moving bodies of water.

Here’s what you should do if you fall into fast-moving water, according to experts.

LEARN MORE: Fire officials warn of rushing streams, rivers during spring runoff

Sandy Fire Chief Ryan McConaghie spoke with ABC4.com about water safety after a 12-year-old boy died after being swept into the Provo River on Saturday.

“These last two years have been even more dangerous with more snow,” McConaghie said. “The runoff has just been increased.”

McConaghie said putting even one foot into a fast-moving body of water can cause you to be swept away, and he said the low temperatures would take your breath away.

What to do if you fall into a river

The Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture offered some water safety tips. One important tip is that you should not try to stand up if you fall into fast-moving water.

“The force of the water will push you over and hold you under,” the Forest Service said. “Most drownings result from getting a leg or ankle caught in an underwater rock ledge, between boulders or snagged in tree limbs or other debris.”

Instead of trying to stand up, the Forest Service said you should lie on your back with your feet pointing downstream. You should try to have your toes pointing up toward the surface of the water.

“With as much water as (is) flowing right now, it’s basically a blender,” McConaghie said. “With boulders, trees, and other things that are just being tossed around, it’s very turbulent and very dangerous as we have seen this past weekend, with the unfortunate events in Utah County.”

Additionally, the Forest Service said you should be looking downstream and “be prepared to fend off rocks with your feet.” You should wear a life vest if you don’t know how to swim, the Forest Service added.

If you get swept away in the water, Sergeant Garrett Dutson with the Utah County Sheriff’s Office said to reach for branches or trees to hold onto, and try to make your way to the shoreline.

Dutson advised Utahns to call 911 if they see someone swept away in the river, and cautioned against jumping into the water to help. The Utah Department of Natural Resources also suggested that, instead of jumping into the water to save someone, you should throw something that could help them and call 911.

How to keep yourself and others safe near the water

On Saturday, the Provo Police Department posted on social media to remind Utahns to stay at least 40 feet away from riverbanks. The Utah Department of Natural Resources has more tips for people who are recreating near rivers and streams in Utah during the spring and summer.

“We urge everyone to stay away from river and stream banks until the runoff subsides, as this is the safest thing you can do for yourself, your family, and even your pets,” Utah DNR said.

When near water, you are urged to keep an eye on your children and your pets. Utah DNR suggests that someone in your party should be a designated “water watcher” — someone prepared to help in case of an emergency who is alert and not distracted.

“We just have to be very observant of what’s going on,” McConaghie said. “It’s something that, unfortunately, we see every year around the state with the different waterways and rivers coming out of the canyons.”

Furthermore, Utah DNR has said you should always wear personal flotation devices around water — even if you don’t plan on going in the water.

“Always wear a life jacket when near rivers or streams, even if you don’t plan to enter the water,” Utah DNR said. “And if you’re engaging in whitewater activities, make sure to wear other PPE as well.”

The Utah DNR said you should always be prepared for an emergency with a whistle, cell phone, or another type of signaling device to alert people of your location.

Officials also urge you to be aware of the local weather conditions, forecast, and flooding conditions before going out near or on the water.

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