Whether swimming, water skiing or fishing on any kind of boat, such as Swifty of Westport Charters, following water-safety rules will help ensure the memories afterward will be good ones.
Grays Harbor County is known for its variety of swimming, fishing and boating opportunities.
The area does, after all, have an abundance of water, including lakes, rivers, lots of creeks and the rugged Pacific Ocean. It’s a great destination for vacationers, but for a holiday that is remembered for fun and great times, don’t forget about water safety.
At any time, Washington’s waterways can be both appealing and dangerous, says the state Department of Health, which advises to know the water before using it for a recreational purpose.
The Pacific Ocean has many moods, and many people have been carried far out from the shore and drowned. Rip tides are not science fiction — take pains to learn how to swim safely in the ocean.
Seasonal information on the Department of Health’s website at www.doh.wa.gov includes:
• Spring: “Rivers are often high and swift from rains and snow melt and can easily overwhelm the strongest swimmer. Even on hot spring days, lakes, ponds, and rivers are still cold and are dangerous for swimmers. Hypothermia can occur quickly in very cold water.”
• Summer: “Water that is warm on the surface may be much colder below. Use caution when swimming and always supervise young children playing in or near the water. Rivers may not be moving as fast, but logjams can trap swimmers, and large rocks and logs could tip over rafts, canoes, and kayaks. Illnesses can be prevented by not swallowing the water — learn more about recreational water illnesses.”
• Autumn: Early warm days of autumn can be like summer. But like spring, this time of year is unpredictable — be prepared for sudden weather changes and cold water later in the season.”
• Winter: Waters are always cold and can quickly go from being very calm to very rough, especially during storms. If you are on the water for hunting, fishing, or recreation, wear protective gear and life jackets. Tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return and be prepared for sudden weather changes.”
The department also encourages folks to know their limits. Swimming in open water, such as lakes, rivers, ponds and the ocean is more difficult than in a pool, the department warns. “People tire faster and get into trouble more quickly. A person can go under water in a murky lake, making them very hard to find, or be swept away in currents. Avoid swimming where two rivers come together — many good swimmers have gotten into trouble or drowned in currents that didn’t seem to be moving that fast.”
Other advice from the department includes swimming where there is a lifeguard, especially if you aren’t a strong swimmer.
• Be cautious of sudden drop-offs in lakes and rivers. People who can’t swim or aren’t strong swimmers have slipped into deeper water and drowned.”
Staying sober on or in the water is also important, the department says. “Alcohol and other drugs increase the effects of weather, temperature, and wave action.”
Boaters are advised not to overload boats and to wear life jacket that fit. “Many people have drowned when they fell overboard while fishing, hunting, or pulling up a crab pot,” the department notes.
Even the best water enthusiasts can misjudge changing water conditions when boating or swimming in open water. Be prepared at all times by wearing a life jacket - you’ll never know when you’ll be tossed into the water.
Have children wear life jackets that fit them, and “watch them closely around water — they can go under water quickly and quietly,” the department says.
Water safety laws
A number of water safety laws have been passed to improve the use of life jackets and prevent drowning, the department notes:
• Children 12 and younger must wear life jackets that fit them on moving boats less than 19 feet in length in Washington.
• A nationwide Coast Guard rule says that “recreational boats must carry one U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each person aboard. The life jacket must be available and accessible.
• Boaters must obtain Boater Education Card from State Parks.
The Department of Health also advises, “Check river or steam conditions by contacting the United States Geological Survey at (253) 428-3600, ext. 2635.
“Take life jackets, a rescue device, a cell phone, and someone who knows CPR when you are out on the water,” the department says, and check beach advisories before swimming.
“Parents must tell their children about the dangers of open water at rivers, lakes, and beaches,” the department says. Know where your children are, whom they are with and when they’re expected back.
“Parents are powerful role models — if you wear a life jacket, it’s more likely your children will too, the department reminds.