Why you should wear a life jacket as PNW boating season kicks off
In a non-pandemic year, Memorial Day weekend symbolizes the start of the late-spring/early-summer charge into the outdoors around the Pacific Northwest, and that means a lot more people in and on the water. The number one killer on the water: not wearing a life jacket.
We all know Washington waters can kill. The water is so cold it shocks your body. You raise your arms and open your mouth without control, and you go under. Lake Washington is running at 54 degrees right now. Puget Sound is about 50 degrees. River temperatures near the mountains are in the 40s. The lower reaches are in the 50s.
You can be the best swimmer around, but you cannot fight that cold water shock. That’s why boating and safety experts, like King County Marine Rescue Dive Unit Sergeant Mark Rorvik do not understand why more people don’t wear life jackets.
“As long as I have been doing this job, I’ve never pulled a drowning victim off the bottom of a body of water that was wearing a life jacket,” he said.
Derek VanDyke is the education coordinator for the state parks and recreation commission boating program. He said putting on a life jacket is such an easy thing to do.
“No one ever plans on ‘boy, I’m going to get up this morning and I’m going to go boating and I’m going to fall in by accident today, and I might drown,'” he said. “That’s never the plan. It’s becoming an accidental swimmer, from a boater to a swimmer and the impact of the cold water.”
You do not want to become an accidental swimmer without a life jacket on.
So is there a certain segment of the population that seems to avoid life jackets?
“Our demographic of who dies in boating accidents is men, typically in their 40s,” VanDyke said.
It’s guys like me who know everything.
Rob Sendak is the state boating program manager, and this is the most common excuse he gets.
“‘I’ve been boating in Puget Sound for 30 years, and I’ve never had an accident,'” Sendak hears all the time. “That whole attitude that ‘nothing is going to happen to me,’ until it does.”
The experts said that a lot of guys my age don’t like wearing life jackets because we still think they are the horrible, orange blobs our parents made us wear as kids. Life jackets are so much different and so much better today. They are even stylish. There is no reason why you shouldn’t wear one.
Don’t forget: State law requires that there be a life jacket for everyone on board any vessel, and that includes paddleboards. Kids 12 years old and under are required to wear them. Paddleboarders also have to have a noise maker with them.
For Sergeant Rorvik, wearing a life jacket is a no-brainer.
“You come across people that will tell you that they do not know how to swim, and they’re not wearing a life jacket,” he said. “It baffles me.”
We also discussed alcohol on the water, which is never a good combination if you’re operating the boat. The good news is BUI’s are going down, but there has been an increase of people under the influence of marijuana while operating a boat.
And I discovered this interesting tidbit from U.S. Coast Guard recreational boating program specialist Dan Shipman.
“The Coast Guard doesn’t recognize the state law for being able to possess marijuana,” he said. “If you’re out in Puget Sound and the Coast Guard stops you, you just have to realize that they are going to enforce federal law upon you, and the majority of the time they will write you a ticket and confiscate it.”
And that’s for any weed on the boat, not just for the person driving.