Metro reminds Portlanders that “You don’t float. Life jackets do.” Wearing a life jacket is the best thing one can do to stay safe in the water. In order for life jackets to do their job, however, it has to fit properly.
Life jackets come in a wide range of sizes made for people of all sizes and weights. Labels list the jacket’s weight range and chest size. Jackets for children include a leg strap as well and those for infants also have a collar.
Employ the shoulder test by pulling the jacket up at your shoulders. If it slides up to your ears, it’s too big. If it stays tight, the fit is correct. Before getting in the water, it’s important to make sure that all zippers and clips are fastened and the straps are pulled tight.
There are other things to keep in mind when enjoying time in the water.
Many of Oregon’s rivers are fed by snowmelt, meaning that even on days when the air temperature is very warm, the temperature of the river can be much cooler than expected.
Cold shock is when your body hits cold water and can result in dramatic changes in breathing rate, heart rate and blood pressure. Even confident swimmers are at greater risk in cold, calm waters.
When swimming in our rivers, they may look calm on the surface, but they are living bodies of water and in constant states of change.
Water levels fluctuate. Currents change. Boats and jet skis move on the surface and branches, debris and rocks move under the surface. Banks can be uneven, rocky, slippery and have submerged drop-offs.
Water quality is another factor to consider. Sewer overflows are rare but possible, and there are occasional outbreaks of bacterial like E.coli.
The Department of Environmental Quality and the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services (portlandoregon.gov/bes) regularly monitor bacterial levels in the Willamette River and will issue alerts when needed.
A little bit of planning ahead before taking a dip in your favorite watering hole can help prevent dangerous situations and keep the fun rolling all summer long.