Windsor

168 rescued during Port Huron Float Down

There were 65 boats and two helicopters ready to help assist those participating in the Port Huron Float Down. The Canadian Coast Guard says 168 people were helped to shore during the event.

'She had one shoe on and walked home'

Coast guard crews partnered with police and firefighters to come up with a combined water fleet of 65 boats and two helicopters to look out for participants in the Port Huron Float Down. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

Rescue crews kept busy assisting 168 people to the shore during the Port Huron Float down along the St. Clair River in Sarnia, ON and Port Huron, MI.

The coast guard said people had to be helped on both sides of the border.

Last year, about 1,500 people floated into Canadian waters and needed to be rescued. Coast guard crews partnered with police and firefighters to come up with a combined water fleet of 65 boats and two helicopters.

The OPP assisted a Sarnia woman, who was in distress. Carol Launderville, the communications officer for Canadian Coast Guard on the Great Lakes said she was holding her purse above her head with one arm and trying to swim with the other, after her flotation device deflated.

"She's fine. She had one shoe on and walked home," she said.

Americans needed assistance as well. A woman and two teenage girls were taken to safety on the Canadian side after their raft deflated.

"They were ok," Launderville said. "They were checked in by the RCMP and brought over to a station where their transportation was arranged for them to returned home to the states."

She said it was a windy day and the current was strong on the American side. Launderville said safety is an issue with people using floating devices fit for pools, not rivers.

A woman in Sarnia uses binoculars to watch people taking part in the Port Huron Float Down. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"Pool toys are simply not designed for any wind or wave," she said. "They can be swamped and can capsized quite easily which is what we're seeing agian this year."

Many in Sarnia were taking part of the Float Down on the Canadian side. Tyler Smith was scouting out where he wanted to get into the river. He had a small inflatable boat, but left the paddles at home. He also didn't think he needed a life vest.

A view of the Port Huron side of the Float Down of 2017. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"It's fun. You have to do it once," said Smith. "You know the dangers doing it but overall it's a fun time. You stay close enough and do it with someone that's done it before and you'll have fun."

He said he hoped next year Sarnia could be more organized and maybe take the chance to raise some money for charities in the area.

That sentiment was echoed by Frank Berry. He said it's a great time for young people to have a chance to float down the river, but would like people who float to pay for the experience. 

"The entry fee would go to charity. I think that would be a fantastic way of seeing something worthwhile come out of this," said Berry.

T.J. Duquette and Kedar Guerra watch the Port Huron Float Down. Guerra said he didn't want to miss it. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

As the 65 boats and thousands of floaters moved up and down St. Clair River, Kedar Guerra watched it all happen. He's from Toronto but didn't want to miss the event. Guerra said he wasn't getting in the water, but it looked pretty safe.

"The coast guard is looking like they're doing a pretty good job. We've got ambulance and police presence so I think everybody will be safe and have a good day. "