What to do if someone — even you — falls into a river

May 23, 2024, 5:00 AM | Updated: 7:06 am

The best way to stay safe around rivers and streams at this point in time is to stay far away from ...

The best way to stay safe around rivers and streams at this point in time is to stay far away from them. (Photo by Brian Brinkerhoff)

(Photo by Brian Brinkerhoff)

SALT LAKE CITY — The mountain snowmelt flowing into rivers is now raging cold and fast. Do you know what to do if you or someone else falls into a white-water river?

Steve Bullock, chief of law enforcement for the Utah Division of Outdoor Recreation, joined Dave and Debbie to talk about water safety around or on rivers.


Don’t wear an inflatable life jacket while on a river

Bullock said Utah law requires anyone boating on a river to wear a life jacket. 

“You can’t wear an inflatable life jacket on a river . . .  specifically right on the life jacket it will say not for use on a river and that’s just because, of course, there’s trees and branches and rocks that could pop that as you’re going down.”

What to do if someone is swept downstream

Bullock said the safety mantra for swift water rescue from shore is “reach, throw, don’t go.”

  1. Reach: Extend your hand or a tree branch, an oar or a fishing pole — whatever is available — to the person in trouble.
  2. Throw: If the person is beyond your reach, throw something that floats as close as you can to the individual.
  3. Don’t go: Do not enter the the water unless you have been trained in swift-water rescue.

“You want to try and keep an eye on them,” he said. “If you can, get other people to call 911 [so] you can focus on that. As people are swept down in a river setting, a lot of times they’ll be hitting rocks and going under water [and] getting caught in pools,” he said,

What if I fall in?

As your float on your back, point your feet downstream, Bullock advised.

“If you’re keeping your feet downstream, then that can deflect you from rocks and you’re watching where you’re going. That’s if you can stay above water and then, of course, trying to swim to the edge.”

According to explore.com:

“The top half of your feet should be poking out of the water and your head should be above water as well. Look downstream and keep calm, breathe with the flow of the water, to keep from swallowing too much water. When you come up on a calmer area, with the flow of the current, flip over and swim diagonally toward shore.”

Dave, who was once a river guide, told his fellow river runners to always wear shoes.

“If you do get swept away in the water, having shoes can deflect off of those rocks . . . it’s better off a shoe than a tailbone.”

If you are a novice kayaker or river rafter, avoid the white water than comes with spring runoff and wait for the calmer waters of summer, Bullock said.


Family identifies woman swept into Weber River

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What to do if someone — even you — falls into a river