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Coast Guard Reminds Boaters of Hypothermia Water Safety

Officials said there have already been five non-motorized boating fatalities since March 17 this year.

Information courtesy of the United States Coast Guard.

Washington is expected to see its third warm weekend in a row, and if you’re planning on hitting the water, here are some safety tips to keep in mind.

According to Ted Buehner of the National Weather Service, local temperatures will be in the high 60s and could even reach 70 in some places. Though the air is warm, the waters will remain cold. Most western rivers and creeks are in the 30s and those on the east side are in the 40s – temperatures that can easily cause hypothermia, according to Katherine Rowden, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service.

According to Washington State Parks accident data, there have been five non-motorized boating fatalities since March 17, 2012, which is more than in any other year since 2002. This rash of small craft accidents continues with at least two more accidents involving three people this past weekend. One accident occurred on the Chehalis River, where a man is still missing following an annual rafting event near Pe Ell. The other accident occurred off Blake Island and involved a canoe that capsized with two individuals. It is unclear if either were wearing a life jacket.

“Both men in the canoe survived the accident, but they were within minutes of dying from hypothermia,” said Sergeant Jim Porter of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office.

Sudden immersion in cold water makes it difficult, if not impossible, for boaters to keep their heads above water and stay afloat. Boating fatality statistics have shown that wearing a lifejacket gives boaters the best chance of survival in the event of an accident, especially in cold water.

Small craft like kayaks, canoes and rafts are the most vulnerable to capsizing, but all boaters should be prepared and follow these guidelines:

  • Start enjoying boating the right way, with a course to develop skills and safe operation. Paddle sports instruction is offered by local clubs, outfitters and many park and recreation departments.
  • Always wear a properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket. Washington state requires all children 12 years of age and younger to wear a personal flotation device when boating.
  • Scout the condition of the lake, river or waters before getting underway.
  • Be a competent swimmer.
  • Be constantly alert for unexpected hazards.
  • Never use alcohol or drugs when boating or floating in a river. They dull important survival reflexes and impair decision-making skills.
  • Children should never boat or float a river without the close supervision of an adult.
  • Know and practice river rescue and self-rescue techniques. Going in the water is always a possibility. Be prepared.

The National Weather Service also offers online weather and river information useful for trip planning at the following sites for the state of Washington.

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