Weather is warmer, water’s frigid

With warm spring weather right around the corner, now’s a good time for some outdoor safety reminders for boaters, hikers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

Boaters should always use extreme caution, especially early in the boating season when the rivers and lakes remain frigid from snowmelt.

Most river and stream water temperatures are hovering in the upper 30s to mid-40s — temperatures that can easily cause hypothermia if someone suddenly finds themselves in the drink.

The state’s many scenic waterways are a mecca for people who enjoy paddling kayaks and canoes. At the same time, Washington state is often among the nation’s leaders in boating accidents and fatalities. Already in March and April, four people have died in this state in boating-related accidents, and three of those involved a kayak or canoe. In two of those accidents, alcohol and falling overboard contributed to the tragedies.

Regardless of skill or swimming ability, all boaters should wear a life jacket, advised Sgt. James Knauss of the King County Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s their best insurance, if they capsize and end up in a cold, swift-moving river, lake or Puget Sound,” he said.

All boaters should heed the sergeant’s advice. Without a life jacket, someone suddenly dumped into ice-cold water will struggle to keep their head above water and stay afloat. Why risk serious injury or death when a simple precaution like wearing a life jacket can be a lifesaver?

There are other things that folks can do to stay safe: Take boating safety classes to develop or sharpen boating skills. Don’t boat alone, and don’t use alcohol and drugs when boating or floating down a river.

Here’s a tip that applies to boaters, hikers and others heading into the back country: Know the weather and water conditions that await. Check weather forecasts so Mother Nature doesn’t deliver an unexpected blow.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the rush to enjoy warmer weather is hard to contain, especially after months of cold, wet weather. But show some common sense and keep it safe.