Boaters, paddlers urged to wear life jackets on cold water

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Life jacket stations like the one pictured here are available near many waterways in Southwest Washinton. Safety officials say wearing a life jacket while boating or paddling "significantly increases the chances of surviving a fall into cold water." (Contributed photo courtesy of Safe Kids Lower Columbia)

During spring, the air warms but Washington’s waterways remain cold. Safety officials are reminding boaters and paddlers that wearing a life jacket is key for cold-water safety.

While people are encouraged to always wear a life jacket no matter the water temperature or season, public safety officials stress that wearing a life jacket – not just having it on the boat – significantly increases the chances of surviving an unexpected fall into cold water.

“The shock of falling into cold water triggers a gasp reflex, which more than likely means inhaling water,” said Sarah Hoskins, administrative assistant for Longview Fire Department and the chairperson for Safe Kids Lower Columbia. “Wearing a life jacket gives you a fighting chance to get your head above water, stay calm and call for help.”

Despite recent warmer weather, water temperatures statewide are still below 60 degrees – cold enough to cause the gasp reflex and incapacitate even strong swimmers in less than one minute.

Before the first launch of the season, boaters and paddlers are also reminded to review boating regulations and get educated, inspect their watercraft and gear, verify vessels are properly equipped and always wear a life jacket while out on the water.

To donate a life jacket to the local loaner board program, call Hoskins at 360-442-5501.