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Stay safe on the water this summer

Posted on May. 1, 2015 ( comments)
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Saturday, May 2, marks the Seattle Yacht Club’s Opening Day, long considered the first official day of the boating season in our region. 

With rivers, lakes and Puget Sound all within easy reach, water sports of all kinds are popular in our region. As warmer weather arrives, more kids — and adults — will be spending time on or near the water. Swimming, boating and fishing are great summer activities — but can be dangerous. Luckily, a few simple precautions can help keep you and your kids safe at the pool, lakeside, beach or out on the water.

Thanks to our state's geography, snow melt from the mountains (even this year when we didn't get much winter snow) and the natural upwelling of cold water from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, getting in the water in Washington is almost always a chilly proposition. 

“One thing to remember about swimming outdoors in Washington is that the water is very cold,” says Erin Summa, Child Safety Educator with MultiCare Mary Bridge Center for Childhood Safety. 

Swimming in cold water can cause life-threatening changes to your breathing and coordination, and children can’t always be counted on to pay attention to how cold they’re getting. If a child is shivering badly, or their lips are turning blue or purple, that’s a clear sign that’s it’s time to take a break.

Children should always wear a life jacket in open water, whether swimming or boating, and they should always be under direct parental or adult supervision, continues Summa. 

“That doesn’t mean sitting on the beach reading a book,” she says. “It means literally standing there watching them.” 

Even in a "controlled" setting, such as at a swimming pool, or when there's no plan to get in the water, such as fishing off a dock, Summa advises parents to put life jackets on children who can’t swim. She also notes that swimming lessons can help reduce the risk of drowning.


The Mary Bridge Center for Childhood Safety offers free loaner life jackets year-round. Loaned for up to one week; limited quantities. Available in Tacoma (253.403.1234) and Maple Valley (253.372.7680) by appointment. Call for more information.



Washington State law requires children 12 years old and younger to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket at all times when underway in a vessel less than 19 feet in length, unless in a fully enclosed area. 

Water safety applies to adults, too. According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control, among adults ages 45 to 84, drownings increased nearly 10 percent between 1999 and 2010. More than 70 percent of those who drown each year in the United States are adults, and the percentage of drownings in lakes, rivers and oceans rises with age.


The YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties offers a variety of adult swim lesson options at multiple locations visit the Y's website to learn more.



Model good behavior for children. If you don’t know how to swim, or are not a strong swimmer, take the same precautions for yourself as you would for your kids. 


Did you know that Washington State law requires operators of motorboats with 15 horsepower or greater — so, basically, all power boats — to take a safety education course and obtain a boater education card to operate a boat in Washington. This applies to all boaters 12 and older. Boaters can take the education course in a classroom, online, or at home. You can learn more at the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office's boating safety and education website.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published May 2, 2014, and was updated April 30, 2015.

About The Author

maura hallam Maura Hallam
Maura is our senior content editor. She writes extensively about health and wellness topics, from fitness and nutrition to medical insurance. You can reach her at maura.hallam@multicare.org.

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