Joint Statement from Canadian / U.S. Coast Guard Leadership Regarding the 2023 Port Huron Float Down
The Port Huron Float Down is scheduled to take place on Sunday, August 20, 2023, on the St. Clair River. This un-sanctioned event poses significant dangers to participants and other users of the waterways during the 7.5 mile /12 km course.
High risk factors such as fast-moving current, weather conditions, water temperature, large number of participants, lack of lifejackets, alcohol consumption, and limited rescue resources can create challenging emergency response scenarios that can result in serious injuries or fatalities.
This is an inherently dangerous activity. As first responders, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Canadian Coast Guard recommend that people do not take part in this event. If you choose to participate, you are strongly encouraged to take several precautions:
- Wear a properly fitting U.S. Coast Guard / Transport Canada approved personal flotation device or life jacket at all times. Not wearing a life jacket is a leading cause of drowning-related deaths in Canada and the U.S.
- Bring waterproof bags for personal items and identification.
- Bring a paddle. The St. Clair River’s fast-moving current is not suitable for uncontrollable crafts. Paddles will help steer and can also be used as a signaling device.
- File a “Float Plan” with someone not participating who can report participant intentions to the Coast Guard in the event they do not check-in at the scheduled time.
- Do not go alone. Use the buddy system, keep an eye on each other, and immediately report any distress to the nearest emergency response representative.
- Refrain from alcohol consumption.
- Dress appropriately for the weather and cold water. Use a raft that limits immersion in the water.
- Stay near shore and remain out of the navigation channel.
- Mark floats with names and contact information (i.e. cell phone number) in waterproof ink. Empty flotation devices signify to first responders someone may be missing. Once the course is complete, take all floats when exiting the river.
Water temperatures during recent Float Downs averaged in the high 60s º F/ 17-19 º C. Immersion in water below 70 degrees º F/ 21 º C can lead to hypothermia that impairs a person’s ability to swim or help themselves. Early signs of hypothermia include shivering, loss of coordination, and poor judgment.
Additionally, the marine environment accelerates effects of alcohol consumption and can increase fatigue and susceptibility to hypothermia – further impairing one’s judgment, vision, and reaction time.
Past Float Downs have resulted in tragedy. In 2014, a 19-year-old experienced swimmer drowned during the event. The U.S. Coast Guard, local, state, and federal partners including the Canadian Coast Guard mounted a significant search and rescue effort that was suspended after 36 hours.
In 2016, high winds and heavy rains led to approximately 1,500 participants requiring assistance when they landed on the Canadian shoreline at Sarnia and Corunna, leaving them stranded and subject to Canadian and U.S. border security with no identification, money, or means of communication. Some had injuries and suffered from hypothermia.
The U.S. and Canadian Coast Guard, supported by a large number of federal, state, provincial, and local agencies, are highly trained, but with limited resources. We embrace this responsibility, but cannot be everywhere. We rely on users of the marine environment to look out for one another, act responsibly, wear lifejackets, and refrain from alcohol consumption while on the water to improve the likelihood they return home safely.
Canadian Coast Guard
Jonathan P. Hickey
Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard
Ninth District Commander
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