COURTENAY -- A Vancouver Island search and rescue group is pleading for the public to keep off of inner-tubes and other flotation devices on rivers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mike Bryan, swift water rescue coordinator for the Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue team, is asking for people to restrain from potentially dangerous water activities so that his fellow volunteers don’t have to be put in unnecessary danger.

"We're really discouraging people from tubing and doing that kind of thing this time of year and through the summer because we're going to have to come in close contact if we have to rescue people," said Bryan.

Rescue teams have had to adjust their operational protocols since the start of the pandemic, such as limiting vehicles to only two occupants, wearing masks and keeping distance from each other.

The team is concerned about having to go into a river to rescue people, given the current risks associated to the virus.

"The public can really help by doing low-risk activities, that includes not tubing."

Bryan made the comments during the rescue group's annual 'Throw-bag training' session, which took place on Wednesday night along the banks of the Puntledge River.

Throw-bags are the first tool used by shoreline rescue crew members along riverbanks as they can be tossed towards people in the water so they can grab onto the rope.

Wednesday's practice marks the first hands-on training session for the group since the start of the pandemic.

The Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue group is just one of several throughout the province that are called to rivers and lakes each summer to assist people in distress. Bryan knows that despite their requests, they will still get called out and wants the public to know response times will be delayed this summer.

"It does happen every year and we try to discourage it every year but I would hope with things being the way they are that people realize that our response time is slowed because we have more protocols that we have to take into place," he said.