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Floaters told to stay away from Okanagan river

The Oliver fire department is warning rafters to stay off the fast-flowing Okanagan River and head to the Penticton river channel. - Steve Kidd/Western News
The Oliver fire department is warning rafters to stay off the fast-flowing Okanagan River and head to the Penticton river channel.
— image credit: Steve Kidd/Western News

With the summer season in full swing, the Oliver fire department reminds those looking to spend a lazy day on the river to look to Penticton.

Spencer Tribbick, spokesperson for the Oliver fire department, said last week they had to pluck people from the Okanagan River in Oliver on two separate occasions after they ran into trouble while rafting.

“The river is still pretty fast and high so it’s not very safe to be on there and a lot of people don’t realize that,” said Tribbick. “Most of the people going down are sun seekers wanting to float down the river and that is not the place to do it. If they are looking for that they should be going to Penticton.”

On Saturday at 2 p.m. Oliver fire department was called out to the river because three people were trapped on an island.

The swift water rescue tech had to use a pendulum-type rope rig to move the people one by one to the safe side of the river. Tribbick said the trio had been tubing down the river when they got caught on some weeds and their rafts popped. They ended up on the island and couldn’t get back to the safe side because of the fast-flowing water.

“It’s not quite the same as the Penticton river channel. It is more wild, curved and less groomed. Especially this year with the runoff a lot higher making the water faster and deeper,” said Tribbick.

Oliver fire department received another call after a husband and wife got separated, just north of the Oasis Shell gas station. Tribbick said the husband made it onto the bank and called 9-1-1. A search crew found the woman unharmed but shaken after her tube flipped over.

The water is higher and current faster than previous years down the river channel in Penticton. Nicholas Kruger, operation manager of Coyote Cruises said it takes about one hour and 45 minutes to complete the tubing trip and points out it is much safer than a natural river like the one in Oliver.

“Oliver river and ours are two different extremes. Oliver is a little more intense than ours. The channel is straight, there is only a few hidden objects and for the most part there is so many people tubing that you are never really alone out there,” he said. “We also have staff here that help people in and gain their balance and at the finish point, which are the two scariest points. The starting point because you are just beginning to maintain your balance and then at the end you have to get to the one side to get out and get your balance back when you stand up after laying on your back for over an hour. We have people at both the start and finish that can see the river for a few hundred metres who are there to assist tubers.”

Coyote Cruises runs a business that provides services including bus shuttles, tubes and life jackets. Kruger said they rent out tubes and white water rafting style boats for large groups or those who aren’t strong swimmers.

“The personal inflatables that people buy themselves are a very thin layer of plastic or material and they can easily pop if the person hits a stick or any foreign object in the water,” said Kruger.

After working for Coyote Cruises for 16 years, Kruger said he cannot recall a single accident anyone who uses their services has had on the water.

“One of the things we want people to know is that we always make sure we ask about riders swimming levels and if they need life jackets we will provide them. It’s a free service from us for safety,” said Kruger.

Although he can’t recall an accident he has heard horror stories of people not coming prepared and losing personal items in the water.

“I have heard people have lost their identification, wedding rings and cameras. So don’t bring anything you don’t want to lose or get wet, it is a lot easier to lose stuff than you would imagine. I have heard there was a couple of Stanley Cup rings lost in the river and there was a lot of people looking for them but no one ever found them. It’s just amazing when the scuba divers come down when the rivers lower than this and they go along the bottom and come up with quite a collection,” said Kruger.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations is reminding the public to take extra care near the Okanagan River as water levels remain high.

The high water levels mean additional risks to public safety posed by a deep and fast-flowing current. They urge adults to keep children and pets under close supervision at all times when near the banks of the river. If going into the river, take precautionary and safety measures such as using a safe watercraft and wear a life jacket.

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