State calls for kayak, paddleboard safety

Governor declares ‘Paddle Safe Week’

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Zach Macia from Sweetwater Rentals provides safety tips to first-time kayakers, Mat and Marty Sampson, on Lacamas Lake.

With temperatures routinely hitting the 90s, local waterways are chock-full of folks enjoying the region’s cool rivers and lakes and using kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddleboards (SUP).

As the popularity of paddlesports rises, so do accidents.

United States Coast Guard statistics show 138 people in the U.S. died while paddling in 2017. In Washington, close to half of all boating fatalities going back to 2012 involved paddlecraft, according to Washington State Parks.

In a move designed to raise awareness, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a proclamation declaring July 20 through July 28 “Paddle Safe Week.”

“While many paddlecraft are easy to use without training, we recommend people take courses to improve their paddling technique, and learn the laws that apply,” Haley Rice, the paddlesports program specialist for the state’s boating program, said.

Paddleboard popularity on rise

On hot summer days, there are so many paddlecraft on Lacamas Lake in Camas, it looks like you could walk from one side to another without getting wet. There are now two paddlecraft rental businesses on the lake. Sweetwater Rentals in Heritage Park, which is now in its fifth year of business, and Lacamas Lake Kayaks, located near Round Lake.

Paddling safety tips:

Avoid alcohol and drugs : Washington’s boating under the influence law applies to all watercraft, including kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.

Check, understand the weather: Check warnings, weather conditions, wind and tide conditions. Tide conditions come into play, even in the Camas-Washougal area along the Columbia River.

Protect against cold-water shock: Many of Washington’s waters remain below 60 degrees all year, even during hot weather. The biggest risk is not hypothermia, but cold-water shock, which occurs in the first state of immersion.

Be visible to other boaters: Paddlecraft sit low on the water, making them difficult for other boaters to see. Wear bright neon and contrasting colors and put highly reflective tape on your paddles.

File a float plan: Before you head out, study your route and let someone know your plans. Include the names of everyone going on the water, the planned route and what time you plan to leave and return.

The number of personal paddleboards on this lake has increased in recent years, according to those who work on the lake.

“A lot of people come to us for their first taste of paddleboarding, and the next weekend we see them walk by with a shiny new SUP,” Rene Carroll, co-owner of Sweetwater Rentals, said.

Camas resident Amy Grabenkort and her daughters, Lily and Evelyn, are paddleboard fans. They rent SUPs several times each summer and the Grabenkorts say safety is always a top concern.

Evelyn might look small on the big paddleboard, but she can move it around the lake like a pro.

“Always make sure you are wearing a life jacket,” Evelyn cautions. “And you really need to learn how to properly paddle, so you don’t flip your board over.”

Officials with the Washington State Boating Program agree with Evelyn’s recommendations. At a minimum, state officials recommend taking a course on paddlesport safety, emergency procedures and navigational rules. State law requires all boaters, even paddleboarders, to carry a sound-producing device, such as a whistle.

At Sweetwater Rentals, each life jacket comes with a whistle installed on the front. Regardless of age or skill level, all paddlesports participants are encouraged to wear a life jacket when they’re on the water. Of all the paddlesport deaths in 2017, 90 percent were due to drowning, and in nearly all of those cases, victims were not wearing life jackets.

Dock ‘most dangerous place you will encounter’

Zach Macia, Stephanie McCallum and Julia Coombs are all recent Camas High School graduates with summer jobs at Sweetwater Rentals. They have all passed the American Red Cross’ water safety classes and provide safety tips and advice to all paddlecraft renters.

During a recent sunny day at the lake, Mat and Marty Sampson, from Vancouver, listened closely to the paddlesport experts while renting two-person kayaks for themselves and their teenage children, Maddy Hill and Shun Yanaguchi.

“It’s our first time, and we thought, ‘it’s a chance to spend time with our kids, who are at ages where they really don’t want to hang out with us too much,'” Marty Sampson said.

Macia explained to the family that the dock area is the most dangerous area they will encounter all day.

“We talk about safety all the time, especially around the docks, because they get so busy. We tell them not to stand up on the boards or kayaks around the docks, because if you fall you can hit your head,” Macia said.