KING COUNTY, WASHINGTON - Warm weather and cold water is a dangerous combination and each year, King County residents die when they venture into these waters without appropriate lifesaving gear and lifeguard protection. In early summer, King County lakes and Puget Sound are extremely cold, and snowpack melt means that rivers are running deep, cold and swift. Public Health is urging all residents to use extreme precaution when recreating around open water.
"Late spring is not a good time to be swimming in local rivers, lakes or in the Sound," said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health Seattle & King County. "Even the best swimmers with lifejackets may not be prepared for the unexpected cold water and may quickly find themselves in serious trouble."
In 2006, there were 31 drowning deaths in King County, more than any year for the past ten years. Twenty-one of the drownings took place in open water like rivers, lakes, or Puget Sound. Nine of them - thirty percent - took place during the month of June.
Recommendations from Public Health
Swimming is a great way to stay physically active, but everyone should follow some key rules to enjoy the water and stay away from danger:
- Know the water - Washington state waters are cold enough to cause hypothermia even on the hottest summer day; hypothermia can weaken even the strongest swimmer
- Know your limits - drowning often happens when a person tires while swimming
- Wear a life jacket - when swimming anywhere without lifeguards or whenever you boat, jet ski, tubing, or do other water sports. By law, children ages 12 or younger must wear a Coast Guard approved life jacket or vest on all vessels 18 feet or shorter.
- Swim in areas that are lifeguarded
- Always avoid alcohol when swimming or boating
- Keep children within immediate reach when you are near any type of water
Lakes and rivers are particularly dangerous in May and early June. Beaches do not have lifeguards yet and rivers are colder, swifter, and more dangerous in general than later in the summer. Stay out of local lakes until lifeguards are in place in mid-June; for spring swimming, choose a pool that has lifeguards.
Kayakers, rafters and other boaters should stay away from rivers unless they are highly experienced, or should sign up with professional touring companies. Professionals will know the river and will know where the treacherous logjams common at this time of year are located. In addition, children should never boat or float a river without the close supervision of an adult. River boaters should know and practice river rescue techniques, and be trained in rescue skills, CPR, and first aid with emphasis on recognizing and treating hypothermia.
All boaters should follow additional safety guidelines:
- Learn to be a competent swimmer
- Know how to handle your water craft with the proper use of paddles and oars
- Always stay alert for unexpected hazards
More information on water safety and drowning prevention.
Providing effective and innovative health and disease prevention services for over 1.8 million residents and visitors of King County, Public Health Seattle & King County works for safer and healthier communities for everyone, every day.