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Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Staying safe as boating season begins

Officials urge the use of lifejackets and other safety gear to survive boating accidents in chilly Northwest waters.

EVERETT -- Warming days make Snohomish County waters all the more inviting, but emergency responders already are preparing for water-related deaths and injuries.
The first weekend of May generally marks the unofficial start of recreational boating season and the kickoff to shrimping season.
Two people were killed shrimping May 7, 2011, just off Camano Island. Waves swamped the 18-foot boat, pitching everyone into the sea.
Between 2008 and 2011, at least eight other people lost their lives in boating-related accidents in Snohomish and Island counties, according to state data. There were at least 93 boating-related deaths statewide.
About half of those involved non-motorized boats such as kayaks and canoes, state experts said.
Some of the most common factors in boating fatalities were people not wearing life jackets, using alcohol and drugs, or falling overboard. Overloading and weather-related capsizing also were issues.
The best way to survive trouble on the water is for everyone to wear life jackets, Everett police Lt. Robert Goetz said.
That goes for boating, rafting and everything else, he said.
On Puget Sound and Port Gardner, sudden swells and waves can knock people out of a vessel and into the water, especially if they're leaning over a shrimp pot, Goetz said.
"If you do end up in the water, if you have your life jacket on, you're going to be able to much more likely to survive and get back into your boat," he said.
It's not just the ocean. Rivers in Snohomish County can be treacherous year-round, Snohomish County sheriff's Lt. Rodney Rochon said.
Even in the dog days of summer, local rivers rarely run warmer than 55 degrees, he said.
"The water is still oh-my-gosh cold," he said. "They're falling out of their boats, and hypothermia's hitting them really fast."
Rochon cautions people who want to float the rivers to plan ahead and use appropriate gear.
People heading downriver sometimes underestimate the distance they'll need travel and end up lost in the dark, Rochon said. Unless they have a dry cell phone or someone spots them, things can go bad fast.
"No one expects to fall in the water, but it happens," he said. "And the best thing you can do if you're going to be around the water is be prepared for the water."
People also get into trouble by trying to use pool toys or makeshift rafts on the rivers, Rochon said. Several in Snohomish County have died that way in recent years.
Lastly, if parents bring children near the water, somebody should be assigned to watch them at all times, Rochon said. The occasional glance doesn't count.
"Somebody is basically the guard dog," he said. "Their function is to sit there and stare at those kids and be able to call for help if needed."

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com
Boating safety
Learn more about boating at http://boat.wa.gov.
For child safety and life jacket rental information, go to www.snosafekids.org.
Boater education card
Most who operate boats with at least a 15 horsepower engine must get a boater education card. In 2012, that's anyone 40 years or younger, with some exemptions. The age cut-off rises annually until 2014, when every boater 59 and younger will be required.
Safety tips
•Wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times. Even good swimmers need to wear one; gentle stretches of water can have wicked undercurrents.
Never use innertubes and rafts designed for swimming pools.
Know your limits; do not attempt a section of river beyond your skill level.
Pay attention to weather and water conditions. Wear wool clothing or a wet suit and dress for the water temperature. If the water temperature and air temperature combined total 100 degrees or less, wear protective clothing.
Enter cold water slowly.
Avoid swimming near boat ramps or in boating areas.
Avoid downed trees, snags and confluences.
If your vessel capsizes, float on your back, feet together and pointed downstream. If you go over a ledge or drop, tuck into a ball.
If you're caught in a fast-flowing river or rapids, try to float feet first in a half-sitting position. Release your craft only if it improves your safety. Stay upstream, away from the boat.
Source: Snohomish County and state public safety officials

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