KING COUNTY, WASHINGTON - With hot weather ahead, residents should think twice before dipping into the dangerously cold waters in this area.
Each year, King County residents die when they venture into these waters without appropriate lifesaving gear and lifeguard protection. In late spring, even as the weather warms up, King County lakes and Puget Sound are still extremely cold, and snowpack melt feeds rivers that are running deep, cold and swift. Public Health is urging all residents to use extreme precaution in activities around open water.
"No matter what the outside temperature reads, 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 are at risk for serious trouble in the cold water."
In 2007, there were 24 unintentional drowning deaths in King County . Fifteen of the drownings took place in open water like rivers, lakes, or Puget Sound . Six of them - 25 percent of the yearly total - took place during the months of May and June, when waters are still very cold from winter runoff.
Lakes and rivers are particularly dangerous before summer. Beaches do not have lifeguards yet and rivers are colder, swifter, and more hazardous 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.
"River systems are not only extremely cold this time of year, they are constantly changing and may have new pieces of wood either submerged or spanning river channels that can present serious dangers," said Theresa Jennings, Director for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. "Rivers will be running high and swift from snowmelt. Swimming is not a good idea in these conditions, and people should exercise great caution when navigating or doing recreational activities on the river."
Recommendations from Public Health
Swimming is a great way to stay physically active, but everyone should follow a few safety rules to enjoy the water and reduce 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 approve life jacket or vest on all vessels under 19 feet.
- Swim in areas that are lifeguarded
- Always avoid alcohol when swimming or boating
- Keep children within immediate reach near any type of water
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 be aware of common locations where treacherous logjams are located at this time of year.
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.