KIRKLAND, Wash. — It's about that time to get back on the waters of western Washington, and with the influx of boaters comes heightened attention to water safety.
May 21-27 is National Safe Boating Week. Marine patrols around the Puget Sound region are using the week to raise awareness about some of the top safety issues for recreational boaters.
Matthew Martin, of the King County Sheriff's Office Marine Rescue Unit, said he is predicting extra zeal among boaters, kayakers, and paddle boarders out on the water.
"With the weather, people have been delayed,” said Martin. “So, they're really chomping at the bit to get back out there.”
Late snow this spring contributed to cold water temperatures, which was recorded in the 50s last week. Even if weather conditions are warm, the water temperatures may still be cold and dangerous should someone fall in unexpectedly.
“You could suffer a cold water shock where it causes you to gasp and panic a little. So that's a risk," explained Martin.
Cold water shock occurs when the body is suddenly immersed in cold water and can become deadly in about a minute. A person will start to involuntarily gasp or hyperventilate, which may lead to cardiac arrest.
Sudden gasps of air and rapid breathing from cold water shock can create a greater risk of drowning for even the most confident swimmers. The National Weather Service said cold water shock can impair decision-making and also restrict movement in your arms and legs.
Experts consider cold water to be anything less than 70 degrees.
Among the most dangerous things a person can do on the water is not having a life jacket handy.
In 2021, 13 people died in recreational boating accidents across Washington state. Seventy-seven percent of those victims were not wearing a life jacket, according to data provided by the Washington State Parks Recreation Commission.
Marine rescue units are also reminding the public that boating under the influence is illegal. Anyone on a vessel, including kayaks and paddle boards, must have a life jacket available for everyone on board.
"We have to respond to those and recover those people while their families are watching, and all of them, a simple life jacket, we wouldn't have needed to come," said Martin.
Personal flotation devices, such as a life jacket, significantly increase your chances of surviving after falling into the water. The Red Cross suggests people should never swim alone and recommends designating someone to watch the water if you are swimming with a group of people.