Persuasive River Safety Messaging

I seem to get a shot of motivation whenever there is a local tragedy.

I spent yesterday afternoon on the St Joseph in the area where a woman went missing. There was only one other vehicle at the put-in.

No luck. Big river. There will be a more massive search today.

I had reached out to a local news station to discuss river safety and it turns out that I missed an offer for an interview while I was out paddling but coincidentally the same reporter was at my take-out and we had a lovely conversation. I’ve offered to be interviewed and also offered to take a WNDU staff member for a canoe ride to show them the hazards.

So I’ve been thinking about messaging. What are the simple, clear and compelling points to make if I get a chance?

I’m thinking that I’d want to touch on swimming ability and PFD’s.


Most americans overestimate their swimming ability and can’t pass a basic swim test. I’m a lifeguard and I get exhausted easily if I dont swim regularly The river current is faster than a person can swim so it’s very dangerous for anyone uncertain of their swimming skills to be in the river.

The River

It’s a big river with lots of water. Some places are calm but in other places the river gets narrow and the current gets fast. In some places one would have to swim a long way before the river current lets you get to shore. The river is also full of sunken trees that could easily entangle you or knock the wind out of you if you’re in the water.

90% of drowning victims do not wear a PFD. I’m a lifeguard and I wear a PFD. THINGS HAPPEN on the river!

Bottom Line

Take swim lessons at the YMCA! I will teach you myself.

Wear a PFD for your own safety and for the safety of those that might have to risk their lives to rescue you if you don’t wear a PFD.

I welcome any comments about messaging. Even the reporter said “it looks pretty calm”. I told her I was amazed at the general lack of awareness of the dangers of the river when our news comes out of South Bend and the town is named after a bend in the St Joseph river!


Might want to add, Dress for the water temperature, keep it simple but mention wetsuits or drysuits for spring, fall, and winter paddĺing

@tdaniel - Thx for the quick feedback!

I was indeed interviewed today. I hope it helps a little and I believe that more good will come out of this tragedy. Sad that it takes a tragedy to make folks more receptive to learning about water safety.

After thinking about it more, I think that one of the fundamental dangers of the river is that although it’s straight and wide and relatively slow in many places and one could probably swim out on either side pretty easily, the river also splits around islands and narrows as it goes around some bends so the main channel gets narrow and fast in a few areas and the river will not let you get out for hundreds of meters. So you’re going to need to swim a good long time and distance until the current spreads out again. The river also tends to deposit trees in those fast/narrow channels and if you’re swimming then some logjams could be unavoidable. So the 400 meter Coast Guard swim test is probably more relevant than the 25 meter test to qualify for the deep end at the YMCA. And ya still need a PFD to be safe.

Coincidentally, I’m walking our friend’s dog on my neighbor’s farm later today and end up meeting a couple first responders. We had a nice chat and I learned more about the latest incident and also the previous, similar incident nearby. The first responder and I seemed to be in very strong agreement about the dangers of the river.