Not even a global pandemic can stop the annual Port Huron float down.
Emergency crews are coordinating patrols and potential rescues in preparation for the unsanctioned Aug. 16 event that typically sees thousands of Americans, and some Canadians, float down a portion of the St. Clair River.
“We expect it to be fairly similar to last year. We don’t know if (COVID-19) is going to put a curb in it, or if it’s actually going to be more people,” said Sarnia Police Const. John Sottosanti. “Obviously if everything goes perfect nobody ends up on this side.”
The Float Down is a decades-old tradition and stretches some 10 kilometres down the St. Clair River from Port Huron to Marysville, Michigan. Canadian participants often depart from Point Edward.
The event, which happens on the third Sunday of August, is unsanctioned; there is no registration, and no one is responsible for its operation.
In years past storms and inclement weather have blown participants across the border onto Sarnia’s shores. Last year two dozen U.S. residents ended their float down near Ferry Dock Road.
In 2016 some 1,500 washed ashore illegally, resulting in 19 bus trips shipping wayward floaters back to Michigan.
The RCMP and Canadian Coast guard work with local first response agencies in a coordinated response, said Sottosanti. The strategy will be the same as in previous years, with the addition of safety measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19.
Several patrol boats will bob alongside participants while helicopters whir above. The stretch of the river is closed to shipping and boating traffic for the day.
This year Coast Guard responders will be geared up with PPE to protect them from COVID-19 spread during rescues, an agency spokesperson said in an email to the Journal. Protocols will also be used to identify if someone could be infected with COVID-19.
“The Canadian Coast Guard does not condone the annual Port Huron Float Down event,” Coast Guard spokesperson Lauren Solski said. “This remains an un-sanctioned marine event and poses risks to the participants, responders, and other users of the waterways.”