Sports

Use caution when planning water activities, plan for safety at every turn

County Department of Health officials warn everyone to stay out of King County’s dangerously deep, cold and swift rivers and lakes. The snowpack melt makes this time of year more treacherous than usual for swimmers, rafters, innertubers and kayakers.

Recently, several accidental drownings have taken place throughout Puget Sound, causing officials to urge caution when heading out onto the water.

Since 2002, almost one-third, or 32 percent, of all preventable drowning deaths in King County occurred in May and June.

“This is a risky time to swim, tube or raft in local rivers or lakes,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County. “Our local lakes and rivers may look inviting in the hot weather of early summer. Unfortunately, this is also when the water is most perilous. Even the best swimmers wearing lifejackets can be injured or die in such rapid, cold water.”

In 2008, there were 21 unintentional drowning deaths in King County, 13 of them in open water such as rivers, lakes or Puget Sound. Nine deaths — 43 percent of the yearly total — took place during the months of May and June.

In addition to the temperature and swift water threats, rivers may also have clogs of debris, presenting an added danger to swimmers, rafters, tubers and kayakers.

“Rivers are running higher and swifter from snowmelt and may have new pieces of wood either submerged or spanning river channels. People should exercise great caution when navigating or doing recreational activities on rivers,” said Theresa Jennings, director for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

Recommendations from Public Health

Swimming and other water sports are a great way to stay active. However, to stay safe:

Know the water — Washington waters are cold enough to cause hypothermia even on the hottest summer day; hypothermia may weaken even the strongest swimmer.

Know your limits — drowning often happens when a person tires while swimming or a novice swimmer tries to keep up with friends who are stronger swimmers.

Learn to swim, and choose lifeguarded areas. Wear a lifejacket while swimming anywhere without lifeguards. Avoid swimming at local beaches until lifeguards go on duty, usually in mid-June. Until lifeguards go on duty, use indoor pools.

Avoid drinking alcohol or using other drugs while swimming, boating, tubing or rafting.

Watch children closely when they are in or near any type of water; stay close enough to reach them immediately.

Special considerations for boaters

Wear a lifejacket whenever you boat, jet ski, tube or participate in other water sports.

Children 12 years old and younger must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved lifejacket at all times when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless in a fully enclosed area.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 87 percent of people who drown in boating-related accidents were not wearing lifejackets at the time of the incident.

In addition, before using kayaks, rafts or other boats, learn to safely operate the craft. Learn and practice water rescue skills and first aid. Washington law requires operators of motorboats with 15 horsepower or greater to take a boater safety education course, www.boat-ed.com/wa.

For more information on water safety and drowning prevention, visit Public Health - Seattle & King County Web pages at www.kingcounty.gov/health/injury.

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