‘Have a life jacket.’ Sacramento hosts drowning prevention event ahead of Memorial Day

Alex Muegge/

“Life looks good on you,” and Sacramento city officials said they do not want you losing yours in the American River.

Red billboards along Tiscornia Beach on Tuesday morning plastered the slogan on the walk to its banks for the city’s third annual drowning prevention event. The city’s Office of Emergency Management, fire department and youth, parks and community enrichment held demonstrations including a mock drowning rescue and CPR administration.

Daniel Bowers, Sacramento’s director of emergency management, looked out onto the water while jet skis and boats prepared for the event. He said that an intense, snow-packed winter has both elevated and cooled the waterways causing a hazard for swimmers.

“We really like swimmers to stay out of the river,” Bowers urged.

He said people should wear life jackets, swim with a buddy and refrain from drinking alcohol should they take to the waters. Signs of alcohol prohibition also littered the American River Parkway. Rangers said marijuana use also is prohibited despite it not being written on the signs.

“A lot of things are prohibited,” Bowers said. “But, we’re not so naive to think that they don’t occur.”

Patrons of the American River frequently go tubing. However, the tube should not be one’s only flotation device, according to Bowers.

“Have a life jacket,” he said. “It’s more comfortable anyways. That life jacket will save your life.”

Over the course of a few years, he said that the soil composition beneath the river shifts and moves sandbars. Someone who thinks they know the river well may rely on a ledge below the surface that now drops off into 10 of 12 feet of water.

The American River currents typically travel at about 2,500 cubic feet per second. Over Memorial Day weekend, it is expected to travel at 15,000 cfs, according to Capt. Justin Sylvia, a spokesman for the Sacramento Fire Department.

City firefighters were called out to 20 water rescues last year, Sylvia said, and already the number this year is about the same.

“A lot of that was the unhoused members of our community that weren’t getting to higher ground,” he said. “We had to go assist them off these islands just because the water was so flooded around this area. Those classify as water rescues even though they’re just basically like an assist.”

Sylvia said the dangers this year include higher, faster and colder water, as well as entanglements that can snag swimmers beneath the surface.

Standing next to a CPR model of an infant, Patrick Maridon, the city’s aquatics supervisor, said he would prefer people swim in one of the city’s 16 public pools instead of the river.

“We really try to provide a safe place that’s life-guarded for people to go instead of maybe coming down to a river where it could be unsupervised,” Maridon said. “We really try to round out the options within the city to avoid having to always just come down to the river to find that cool-off spot.”