May 10, 2024 - News

Cold water safety tips ahead of the warm weekend

People in lifejackets kayak in Seattle's Lake Union.

People kayaking among the houseboats on Lake Union in Seattle. Photo: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

With hot weather expected this Mother's Day weekend, local water safety experts are sounding the alarm about two of the most important tools in the water safety arsenal: life jackets and cold water awareness.

The big picture: Last year there were 23 recreational fatalities reported in Washington's waters, Rob Sendak, boating recreation programs manager at Washington State Parks, told Axios.

  • 15 occurred on human-powered vessels like canoes, kayaks and paddleboards, and 14 of those were not wearing life jackets, he said.

Driving the news: Most drownings in Western Washington happen in May and June, when warm weather draws people to the water, said Ted Buehner, a local meteorologist.

  • Washington waters remain cold year-round, with spring and summer temperatures that can range from the upper 40s in snow-fed rivers to the low 50s in lakes and Puget Sound, he said.
  • Even strong swimmers can be hijacked by cold water shock, which can cause involuntary physical reactions like gasping and hyperventilation and lead to drowning

Be smart: Before you go, tell someone where you are going, check water and weather conditions, review basic safety recommendations and have a reliable form of communication, such as a VHF radio tuned to Channel 16, said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. and Commanding Officer Thomas Bower.

  • Remember the 1-10-1 rule of cold water immersion: You have one minute to bring your breathing under control, 10 minutes to self-rescue while you can still move your limbs and one hour of consciousness before hypothermia sets in.
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