Participants in the Pt. Huron float down blown into Sarnia Bay. August 21, 2016 photo by Melanie Irwin.

First Responders Prepare For Float Down

First responders will coordinate again this year to make sure Port Huron Float Down participants are safe.

The unsanctioned event, which sees hundreds of people float down a section of the St. Clair River on inflatable rafts, is scheduled to take place next Sunday, August 19.

Sarnia Police Constable John Sottosanti says they will be assisting provincial and federal agencies.

“We will start monitoring the situation at the water treatment plant at the mouth of the river,” says Sottosanti. “We’re making sure people aren’t drinking on land. Once they get onto the water, they’ll be monitored by the RCMP and the OPP. We will also be monitoring the shoreline, so if people do land there we ensure their safety.”

Sottosanti says Americans who come to shore in Canada will be detained for processing by the RCMP and Canada Border Service Agency officers.

The float down made international headlines in 2016, when 1,500 U.S. residents — many without identification — were pushed across the river to Canada on strong winds.

Sottosanti says they learned a lot that year.

“From there, this has become what it is now, where we have multiple agencies working working together. So we’re just part of the total package.”

Sarnia-Lambton first responders gather to discuss the Port Huron Float Down. 

The Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard, OPP, RCMP, Sarnia Fire and Rescue Services and Point Edward Fire Department will have crews out on the water.

“We’ll be deploying our fast rescue crafts, they’re about 27 ft. long, rigid hull inflatable boats and they’re a very renowned search and rescue craft and we use them across Canada,” says Canadian Coast Guard Search and Rescue Officer Greg Birdsell.

In all, about 40 vessels are expected to be on patrol, with the Canadian Coast Guard helicopter providing a bird’s-eye view of the river.

Float down participants are asked to wear lifejackets, carry a passport or NEXUS card, and refrain from drinking alcohol.

Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary Director Clive Worton says it’s also a good idea to put your phone number on your inflatable.

“If we find one out on the water, we can call that number immediately and determine whether there was somebody on it or not,” says Worton.

About 6,000 people participated in 2017 and crews helped at least 168 of them get back on their devices or to shore.

A 19-year-old Michigan man drowned during the event in 2014.

The St. Clair River will be closed to all motor vessel traffic from just north of the Blue Water Bridge to Stag Island between noon and 8pm, August 19.

The new boat launch at Sarnia Bay will also be closed from 10am to 10pm.

The event starts at Lighthouse Beach in Port Huron at 1pm and ends at Chrysler Beach in Marysville.