Officials urge river safety as people spend more time outdoors

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - "We encourage people to enjoy the river but respect the river," says Columbus Fire Marshal, Ricky Shores.

Shores says whichever way you choose to experience the Chattahoochee River in Uptown Columbus, everyone is required to have something in common; a life jacket.

"Just south of the North Highland Dam and continuing down to the southernmost point of the trade center you've got to have your life jacket on," says Shores.

It's the law. That's according to Section 14-45 of the Columbus city ordinance. Any person in the river must wear a personal flotation device. Your flotation device must be U-S Coast guard approved and be properly fitted for your weight.

"It will help keep you in an upright position but you will need to keep your head out of the water," says Shores.

Shores says in reality, due to the slippery rocks which surround the river, you should ideally wear a life jacket if you're less than 10 feet from the water.

"You have to understand if you bring your small children down here they could very easily slip and fall and drown," says Shores.

In 2017 alone, Columbus safety officials responded to seven swift water rescues and two watercraft rescues. Last year the area also saw four drowning deaths with three directly caused by the river waters.

Shores says all 13 of these incidents could have been avoided if those in the water were wearing their life jackets.

"I think the most important thing people need to realize is that even a veteran swimmer can panic. Once you panic you become unable to self rescue alot of the times. It doesn't take a whole lot of water for you to drown," advises Shores.

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