EVERETT — Memorial Day weekend kicks off the peak season for outdoor activities in Snohomish County, including boating and swimming.
It also kicks off the peak season for drownings.
Local fire departments are reminding people to stay safe around the water. Life jackets for all and supervision for children are two points officials are stressing this holiday weekend.
Life jacket loaner cabinets opened at lakeside parks around the county Friday. The service is in partnership with Safe Kids Snohomish County, an organization focused on preventing childhood injuries. Cabinets are stocked with life jackets that can be borrowed for free. They are expected to remain open through Labor Day.
Life jackets can be checked out and should be returned by the end of the day. Directions on the cabinets explain how to properly size and fit for children.
A jacket needs to fit to be effective. When arms are lifted above the head, it should not lift up to the chin. Straps, zippers and ties need to be fastened securely.
“An ill-fitting life jacket could cause a drowning just as much as it could save somebody,” said Shawneri Guzman, coordinator for Safe Kids Snohomish County.
She also reminds people the cabinets are a good backup if they forget or don’t have life jackets, but it’s best to bring their own. On busy days, the cabinets might empty.
An average of 25 children die each year in Washington from drowning, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital. Inflatable toys such as swim noodles, inner tubes or water wings do not substitute for a life jacket.
And nothing is as important as supervision, Guzman said. Being present isn’t enough. Adults should be close enough to see, hear and quickly reach kids. Life jackets aren’t babysitters, she said. Avoid distractions. Put down the cellphone.
“People think that drowning happens like they see it in the movies, where they’re flailing and yelling,” Guzman said. “But drowning is silent. They’re above the water one second, below the next.”
Between 2000 and 2015, 148 people died by drowning in Snohomish County, according to data from the state Department of Health. That’s an average of nine deaths each year, though some years saw spikes. The state reported 17 drownings in the county in 2015.
Even experienced swimmers can drown. In late spring and early summer, the weather gets hot but lakes and rivers remain cold, and river currents are strong. Life jacket cabinets are not placed at local rivers because rivers are not safe for swimming, Guzman said.
Even when the temperature is in the 80s, the water can be 40 degrees or cooler. There also might be debris accumulated during high water in the winter that makes even the most familiar swimming holes or boating and floating routes more dangerous.
“After just 10 minutes in cold water, a person can experience cold water incapacitation and lose the ability to control muscles,” according to a reminder from the Marysville Fire District.
Life jacket cabinet locations include: Wyatt Park in Lake Stevens; Lake Goodwin and Wenberg parks near Stanwood; Lake Tye in Monroe; Martha Lake in Lynnwood; Gissberg Twin Lakes in Marysville; Flowing Lake Park near Snohomish; Silver Lake in Everett; and fire stations in Gold Bar, Index, Monroe and Lake Goodwin.
New or gently used life jackets can be donated at local fire stations.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.