Rescuers say tubing on the James River ‘just isn’t safe’

RICHMOND, Va. --  The people who rescue stranded swimmers, rafters, and tubers from the James River want the public to know about dangers lurking in the water.  Saturday, Richmond crews rescued four tubers from Belle Isle.

"Tubes are just not rated for rapids. It's just really not designed to hit rocks. You can be easily tossed off," Richmond Fire and EMS Lt. Christopher Armstrong told WTVR.

The four people rescued from Belle Isle Saturday were wearing life jackets and the water level was low enough that they could get up on rocks and find help, Armstrong said. Water rescue crews get the most calls for rescues between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

"As a result, we have two-person bike team that comes out every weekend on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.," Armstrong said.

He said part of the danger is how quickly water levels can increase. It can happen in a matter of hours.

"So when they first get out there on the rocks, they can cross the rocks or get in the water and it's low," he said. "But there have been times here recently where the water level has increased two to three feet in a matter of one to two hours."

That's why crews recommend you check water levels and river conditions for the entire day. Rain west of Richmond impacts water levels here, so the river could be high and dangerous, even if there hasn’t been rain in Richmond.

Get James River water conditions and water levels here.