State Parks Boating Program encourages cold-water safety

Boat safety is an issue every day that you are on the water

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

As one who has fallen overboard into Puget Sound, I can tell you from first hand experience, water safety is crucial.

As you know, we have all kinds of bodies of water around here – rivers, lakes, swamps and saltwater.

And they can all kill you – or your children.

Few skills are more important in the greater Puget Sound region than water safety from knowing how to swim to the use of appropriate safety gear.

For work or play, be careful around the water.  Photo: Morf Morford

For work or play, be careful around the water. Photo: Morf Morford

May 18-24 is National Safe Boating Week, but boat safety is something you should practice every time you are anywhere near a boat or in the water.

Like most of us, I love the water around here, but there are a few things you need to know before you get into it.

First of all, as tempting as it might look, the temperature of Puget Sound barely changes from winter to summer. And no matter the season, the water temperature is far below your body temperature. And your body does strange things when your base temperature drops – no matter how strong you  might be, after just a few minutes (ten at most) your muscle control diminishes, if not dissipates almost completely.

And just as a simple thing like weather exposure or water temperature can kill you, equally simple things like the proper equipment can make the difference between a fun day and a life-changing catastrophe.

Get out there and enjoy our local waters – but the most important thing is always to make it safely home.

Yes, live like the mountain is out, but don’t forget that the water is always available. Stormy or sunny, windy or mild, the water is always beautiful.


from Washington State Parks:

State Parks Boating Program encourages cold-water safety

Tips for boaters and paddlers to avoid drowning accidents

As the weather warms and people start boating more often, Washington State Parks’ Boating Program wants recreational boaters and paddlers to know about the risks of accidental cold-water immersion. While air temperatures may be rising, water temperatures in Washington state waterways remain cold.

The Boating Program’s key message: Always wearing a life jacket while out on the water.

“Boaters who experience accidental cold-water immersion are threatened by multiple stages of risk, but many people only know about hypothermia,” said Rob Sendak, Boating Program manager. “Those who survive in cold water long enough to get hypothermia are lucky. A fall into cold water can drown a person within minutes due to cold-water shock.”

According to Frank Golden and Michael Tipton, internationally recognized experts in cold-water survival, water below 60 degrees Fahrenheit is immediately life-threatening — and many Washington waterways stay below 60 degrees Fahrenheit year round.

Sudden cold-water immersion 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 life jacket gives boaters the best chance of survival in the event of an accident, especially in cold water.

Small vessels such as kayaks, canoes, rafts and open motorboats less than 21-feet long are the most vulnerable to capsizing, but all boaters and paddlers should be prepared and follow these guidelines:

Get educated. At a minimum, take a boating safety course to increase knowledge of emergency procedures and navigational rules. Learn more at

Photo: Morf Morford

Photo: Morf Morford

Make sure everyone wears a life jacket, including experienced swimmers. State law requires all vessels, including kayaks, canoes and stand up paddle boards to have at least one properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person on board. And all children, age 12 and younger, are required to always wear a life jacket. Learn more at

Be constantly alert for unexpected hazards. Avoid alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs that decrease alertness. Learn more at

File a float plan with someone trusted. The plan should include details about the trip, launch area, marina, boat, passengers, towing or trailer vehicle, communication equipment and emergency contacts. Download a free float plan template at

Know the weather forecast and water conditions before setting out (warnings, winds, waves, tides, currents, etc.). Wind is a crucial factor as it contributes to capsizing and swamping. The National Weather Service offers online weather and river information useful for trip planning:

Dress properly for the air and water temperatures, always wear layers made of synthetic fabrics. Bring an extra set of clothes stored in a dry bag. Avoid cotton clothing. Consider a wet or dry suit when conditions are appropriate.

Carry two forms of emergency communications equipment, preferably on your body, that will work while wet (whistle, VHF radio, person locator beacon, flares or waterproof cellphone).

Don’t apply heat to extremities such as arms and legs of a rescued victim. This sudden change in temperature could cause cardiac arrest.

For more information about cold-water immersion, visit

About the Washington State Boating Program: Washington State Parks administers the state’s Boating Program, which provides leadership in boating safety and environmental education and outreach. The goal of the program is to reduce accidents and fatalities, increase stewardship of Washington waterways, and keep recreational boating a safe, accessible and enjoyable pastime. For more information on the Boating Program, visit: