Stay safe in the water

7/27/2017  By HealthNews

July 27, 2017 

(Photo: James River Float by VSPYCC)

It happens every year: tragedy in the water. A fun outing or day of relaxation becomes a day you won't forget - for all the wrong reasons. This summer has seen its share of water accidents, locally and nationally. And for every accident, there's a response team.

In Kittitas County, the Sheriff's office has a marine unit, with teams for diving, swift water rescue, ice rescue, and boat patrol. According to Undersheriff Clay Myers, the most frequent calls they receive are for rescues or drownings on the Yakima River, and disabled boats on the Columbia River.

While you can't always prevent water accidents, there's a lot that can be done to make things safer before your toes (or boats) ever hit the water. Start with a plan, Myers advises, and match the type of vessel you'll use to the natural conditions of the water and surrounding area.

"If you're pinned up against a log, you're not getting yourself out." - Undersheriff Clay Myers

For example, people often tie inner tubes together as a social way to float the river, but when you enter the waters of the upper Yakima, its sharp corners and "sweepers" (tree branches that catch and trap whatever gets close) make a canoe or other maneuverable craft a far better choice for staying safe in the water.

Temperature is another often overlooked factor. We remember to stay hydrated and apply waterproof sunscreen, but with the irresistible summer combo of hot sun and cold water, swimmers and floaters can be unaware of the danger as the water lowers their core temperature and they enter the beginning stages of hypothermia.

Even the experienced can easily forget the basics of water safety. While our lakes and rivers are generally calm, currents can be deceptively strong. "When we train for swift water rescue, we deliberately get pinned to illustrate how impossible it is to free yourself," says Myers. "I don't care how strong you are, if you're pinned up against a log, you're not getting yourself out."

Now, don't let all this talk scare you away from boating, swimming, canoeing, or floating. Take steps to plan for safety, and stay on alert while you're in and around the water. Enjoy your time on the water - responsibly.

If you're new to the county or to water recreation and you're thinking about heading out to a local river or lake, Myers recommends giving the Sheriff's office a call. "Talk to one of our marine officers or someone in swift water rescue. We know the area, and can help you find a great place to recreate that matches both your water craft and your group's swimming and water abilities."

Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, HealthNews does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare provider.