Alphabet soup of law enforcement, public safety agencies respond to Float Down

Thousands of people participated in the unsanctioned event, which involves people from both sides of the border floating down the St. Clair River in rafts better suited to the swimming pool.

More than 450 people needed assistance: Canadian Coast Guard

A Canadian Coast Guard vessel rescues two Float Down participants. (Jamie Kerwin/Canadian Coast Guard)

Roughly 4,500 people participated in Sunday's Port Huron and Sarnia Float Down, an annual, unsanctioned, and controversial event which involves people from both sides of the border floating down the St. Clair River in rafts, often better suited to swimming pools.

While there were no casualties, missing participants or border issues, the event kept an alphabet soup of local and national law enforcement and public safety agencies busy.

"We assisted 460 people, and we saved 6 lives on the water," said Marc-Andre Meunier, Director of Incident Management, Central and Arctic for the Canadian Coast Guard. "Bad floaters, alcohol, and you go along for eight miles in the heat and the temperature of the water — that's a dangerous mix."

Participants in the 2018 Float Down were keenly watched by the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards. (Carol Launderville/Canadian Coast Guard)

Roughly 50 vessels took to the river on the day of the event to keep an eye on the floaters.

Planning for the event started as early as February, with the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards, law enforcement agencies, fire departments and EMS working together.

Meunier noted many participants didn't wear life jackets.

Canadian responders meeting on the morning of the 2018 Float Down. (Carol Launderville/Canadian Coast Guard)

Asked whether the presence of the Coast Guard and other agencies at the unsanctioned event gives participants a false sense of security and legitimacy, Meunier said while they do not think people should participate in the event, his agency nevertheless has to fulfil its mandate of saving lives.

"We will always come prepared to ensure that Canadian and U.S. safety on the Great Lakes is taken care [of] — this is the Canadian Coast Guard commitment," he said. "We will always be there to save Canadian life on the water."

Tap on the player to hear Marc-Andre Meunier speak with Afternoon Drive host Chris Dela Torre:

Thousands floated down the St. Clair River on the weekend for the annual Float Down - and it kept the Coast Guard busy on both sides of the border. We spoke to Marc-Andre Meunier from the Canadian Coast Guard. 5:28

About the Author

Jonathan Pinto

Jonathan Pinto is a reporter/editor at CBC Windsor, primarily assigned to Afternoon Drive, CBC Radio's regional afternoon show for southwestern Ontario. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.