SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — As people are looking for ways to cool down this summer, many choose to visit the rivers and lakes in the Sacramento region. 

When enjoying a day at the lake or river, the Sacramento Drowning Accident Rescue Team (DART), a non-profit volunteer organization, urges the public to use a lifejacket whenever out on the water. 

“Wear a life jacket that is appropriate for the person it’s going on and appropriate for the activity that you’re doing,” said DART Public Information Officer Zachary Corbo. “Not every life jacket is created to do all things. If you’re on a jet ski, wear one that’s meant for a jet ski, if you’re in a kayak, wear one that’s meant for a kayak.” 

“Folks need to realize that not all life jackets are created the same,” Corbo continued. “They’re meant for specific things.”

Corbo provided an example of different life jackets such as ones that are used when using a jet ski. Corbo said those types of life jackets don’t have many floats in them because they are meant to keep you up in the water while you swim back to your personal watercraft. 

Lifejackets that are used for swimming have a flotation device and are meant to keep someone’s head out of the water as much as possible, Corbo said. 

Another factor that could cause danger in the water is the use of drugs and alcohol with water activity, Corbo said. Corbo added the number of rescues DART participates in where the person is under the influence is “substantial.” 

DART is on high alert after at least 12 people have drowned in the Sacramento region over the past two weeks. Recently, three people each drowned in Brannan Island and Lake Berryessa, two drowned each at the American River and Folsom Lake, and one person drowned in Walnut Grove and Lake Aloha. 

“I would never tell anyone don’t go to the river, it’s not safe,” Corbo said. “What we say is go to the river and enjoy it. We have like 1,300 miles of waterways in Sacramento. We’re very fortunate to have a lot of access to water, but you need to realize there’s a little bit of risk with this activity.”

“It’s not your backyard pool, it’s not your neighborhood pool, it’s an open waterway, a natural hazard,” Corbo continued. “And simple ways to mitigate that hazard is to stay close to shore and wear a lifejacket.”  

What to do if you see someone drowning 

Corbo said DART recommends and encourages people to reach the person in need with a flotation device from their boat if they’re within range. 

A throwable flotation device to help someone struggling in the water can be the difference between life and death, Corbo said. 

“So if someone is within reaching range, either grab them with your hand or use, oftentimes, boats will have a boat hook and send that out and see if you can give that person in the water a lifeline,” Corbo said. “U.S. Coast Guard requires that vessels maintain a throwable floatation device, which can be as simple as a piece of foam. Folks don’t usually think about it, it’s usually just one more extra hassle, but really what it’s for is to throw folks in the water.”

Before people make their way out onto the waterways, Corbo warns the public about the currents on the rivers and lakes in the Sacramento region. 

“Currently, the rivers are faster and colder than we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks,” Corbo said. “They’re a little bit lower than they were a week ago, but they’re still up higher than they normally are. So that means folks can get into trouble a little fast.”

What to do if you’re struggling in the water

Whenever someone falls off their boat or is struggling to keep themselves up in the water, Corbo said swimming against the current is not the best option. 

DART recommends swimming with the current and across to the nearest shore. 

While swimming with the current, Corbo said to get into a self-rescue position, as it’s the safest option to return to shore safely.

“It’s as simplest as putting your feet straight out in front of you and lifting them up so they don’t come into contact with the bottom of the river, sort of in a seated position, and then your arms out flat against the surface of the water,” Corbo said. “It’s the best position to be in so that you aren’t trapped by anything underwater. A lot of your body stays balanced and you’re able to potentially rescue or maneuver yourself back to shore.”