Officials stress water safety

SWORD members recover bodies and vehicles from lakes and rivers

As temperatures exceeded 90 degrees on Monday, people of all ages flocked to local waterways, including the Washougal River. Local officials recommend wearing life jackets and not mixing swimming with alcohol. “It’s a really bad combination,” said Doug Young, who works with the SWORD dive team. Buy this photo

As 90-degree temperatures heat up Camas and Washougal again this week, Southwest Washington Organization of Rescue Divers member Doug Young hopes swimmers pay attention to the hazards before they plunge into nearby lakes and rivers.

The number-one safety tip on Young’s list is to wear a life jacket. He said there are a variety of specialty jackets that make swimming safe and enjoyable. Auto-inflatable jackets fill up when the person wearing it is in the water. The rest of the time, it can be worn comfortably.

Young encourages people to be cautious of their surroundings before jumping or diving in. He said wearing a wet suit keeps swimmers warm in the water and adds buoyancy. He also suggests that groups of swimmers should have a spotter who doesn’t swim.

Young said a “throw bag” comes in handy. If a swimmer is in trouble, a person on land can toss this nylon bag with a rope attached into the water and pull the victim to safety.

“Have an understanding of your swimming ability so you don’t get in over your head,” Young said. “I wish there was a magical formula other than wear your life jacket. That’s really what it all boils down to.”

The dangers of drowning are real. Young said the SWORD dive team has recovered at least five bodies this summer. He has personally been involved in three of those discoveries. None of the victims he found were alive.

“Unfortunately, most of the cases we’ve seen are all recoveries,” Young said. “Swimming in marked areas is a good idea. We pull a lot of people out of unmarked areas.

“The biggest problem I see is swimming mixed with alcohol,” he added. “It’s a really bad combination.”

The SWORD dive team also recovers vehicles and stolen property from lakes and rivers. Young said not only do these objects pollute the water, but they can also be hazardous to swimmers, boaters and anglers.

Young has been a part of multiple diving teams for the past 11 years. He has been with SWORD since it was founded in 2002.

“You would love to be able to save somebody’s life. That’s the ultimate satisfaction,” Young said. “I just enjoy being able to help people when they really need it. In most of those situations, nobody else can help them and we are happy to be able to help them.”