The recent boating tragedy in Crescent Harbor is a reminder about the potential hazards of being on the water.
In that case, a mechanical problem and tall waves combined to capsize a boat with two men aboard. The 80-year-old man was able to make it to shore but the 72-year-old died in the water.
Chris Garden, former head of the sheriff’s marine safety unit, cautions that boaters, sailors, anglers and paddlers should remember that the weather can change quickly around Whidbey Island. People should pay attention to weather reports and be prepared.
Next week is the state’s first Paddle Safe Week. As the popularity of “paddle sports” grows and rates of accidents increase, State Parks’ Boating Program is leading an effort to promote safe paddling.
Last year, 138 people in the nation died while kayaking or canoeing, according to Coast Guard statistics.
According to the Boating Program, top factors contributing to fatal accidents are failure to wear a life jacket, operator inattention and inexperience, alcohol and drug use, hazardous waters, weather and navigation rule violations.
Safety tips recommended by the Boating Program for paddlers extends to boaters:
• Get educated. Know the laws and take a course.
• Always wear a life jacket. Or at least have one handy. Children, age 12 and younger, are required to wear life jackets at all times
• Carry essential gear. Depending on the type of watercraft, that might include a cell phone in a plastic bag, a VHF marine radio and some type of loud noise maker.
• Avoid alcohol and drugs. The state’s boating under the influence laws apply to all water craft.
• Check and understand the weather. Check for warnings, wind and wave forecasts, tides and current conditions or river flows.
• Protect against cold-water shock. Falling into water under 60 degrees is dangerous, and many of the state’s waters remain below 60 degrees all year. The biggest risk is not hypothermia but cold-water shock, which occurs in the first stage of immersion.
• Be visible to other boaters. If you’re paddling, wear bright neon and contrasting colors, put highly reflective tape on paddles and carry a bright light.