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River Safety

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Water Safety
Where there's water, there's risk! The importance of safety on all of Medicine Hat's waterways cannot be understated. To help everyone reduce their risk while enjoying the water, we have compiled what you will need to navigate the City's waterways.

Call 9-1-1 if there is an emergency.

Planning a Day on the WaterSouth SK River
While you're planning a day on the water be sure to check:

  • River conditions and flow rates
  • Weather conditions from Environment Canada
  • For safety advisories, call Fire Services at 403-529-8282
  • Know the River's course and any hazards
  • Remember to tell someone responsible where you are going and when you expect to return
  • Bring the right supplies

Know Before Going on the Water
Always SCOUT, ASSESS and DECIDE from shore before going on rivers, lakes and waterways

  1. SCOUT the river for current  and possible new potential hazards and check the weather and water conditions
  2. ASSESS the level of danger. Check the weather and for  any river advisories and assess the swimming and paddling skills of your crew
  3. DECIDE if it is safe to raft or boat

Wear Your Life Jacket
Even strong swimmers in shallow, slow-moving water are highly recommended to wear life jackets or personal flotation devices (PFD). Life jackets are sold at most sports and general goods stores and some local vendors may rent them for day use.  Life jackets can be borrowed, at no charge, from the Downtown YMCA Life Jacket Loaner Station at 150 Ash Avenue SE.

Before Using Your Life Jacket or PFD, make sure to:

  • Check the size and weight restrictionsSouth SK River
  • Start with the buckles and straps loose then fasten them from the bottom of the jacket to the top to ensure a snug fit
  • Once fastened, test the life jacket or PFD by holding your arms over your head and asking someone nearby to grab the tops of the arm openings and gently pull. Make sure there is no extra room above the arm openings and that the jacket does not ride up over your face or chin

Did you know that some communities have a mandatory court appearance and up to $500 fine for not wearing a life jacket or PFD on waterways?

Supplies for a Safe Floating Experience
Several items are essential for a safe and enjoyable floating experience:

  • Watercraft that is appropriate for river use and meets the weight capacity of your group
  • Properly fitting life jackets or personal flotation devices are required for everyone on board
  • Cell phone to call for help in case of emergency
  • Water and refreshments
  • Sunscreen and hats
  • Complete water safety kit to carry in your watercraft. They are sold at most general goods and outdoor recreational retailers

What's in a Safety Kit?

  • A bailing device to remove water from inside the watercraft. A hand-held bailing device can be purchased or made by cutting the end off a bottle or milk jug
  • A paddle or oar to help you control your craft
  • A sound-signalling device to help with navigation, alerting others of your approach, or in case of emergency (this could be a portable air horn, whistle, mechanical whistle or bell)
  • A heaving rope or towing line (15 meters long) that floats to use for rescue or to pull your craft to safety
  • Navigation or safety light to be used at night or in poor visibility

Safety kits are required on all types of watercraft including kayaks, canoes, dinghies, inner tubes and rafts. For a full detail regarding equipment:

Keep Kids Safe Around Water
Remember to always keep toddlers or young children within arm's reach while in or around all bodies of water. This applies to rivers, lakes and backyard bodies of water like ponds and pools. Life jackets are critical for children and inexperienced swimmers. Encourage children to learn to swim and what to do in an emergency on the water.

Learn to Swim
Swimming is a life-saving skill and gives you the knowledge and confidence to safely take part in water sports throughout your life. We offer year-round swimming lessons for all ages, as well as National Lifeguard Certification classes.


  • You should know where you are headed and what obstacles/water features are on your route. Examples include: bridge abatement, underwater hazards, shallow spots, trees, rocks, and wind direction
  • Allow yourself plenty of time to navigate around bridge piers and prepare for exiting the water before you reach your planned destination
  • Tying multiple rafts together will reduce maneuverability and could cause you to get caught on a bridge pier

Intoxication on the Water is Prohibited
Being intoxicated, in  possession of open liquor  and/or drugs on Medicine Hat's waterways is illegal. Operating a watercraft requires focus, concentration and quick reaction to frequently changing river conditions. Intoxication by alcohol or drugs can impair your judgement on the water much like it does on the road. Fish & Wildlife, RCMP, Police and Bylaw officers patrol Medicine Hat's waterways and boat launches throughout the summer. Anyone engaging in unsafe or disrespectful behaviour on the water will be subject to fines.

To report a problem, please contact 403-529-8481.

Understanding River Flow Rates
While the river can be hazardous at any flow rate, recreational floaters prefer a flow rate between 100 m³/s and 400 m³/s. Download the Alberta River Basins app for easy access to flow rates on the South Saskatchewan River or check their website. As a general rule, as the river flows increase the water levels rise and the water moves faster.

River flows are evaluated by your Flood Monitoring Team year-round, especially during flood season (May to Aug)