There’s an instinct to jump into boats, leap exuberantly into sparkling bodies of water or get on the slopes for some spring skiing on the first beautiful days after our long, cold winters.

But dangers abound: The water is still icy cold, many new boaters and paddlers have not taken basic safety courses and avalanche dangers are still there.

“With COVID-19 vaccination shots being deployed and a year in some form of quarantine, many more people are going to want to get out on the water later this year as the weather warms up,” said Ted Buehner, a weather forecaster who is working with Washington State Parks to highlight the department’s virtual Washington State Boater Education program.

Things to know:

  • There were 24 recreational boating fatalities in Washington State last year
  • Of those 24, only one operator had formal boater safety education
  • Paddlers accounted for 13 of the 24 fatalities
  • Boaters can be certified and obtain a Boater Education Card by attending a virtual instructor-led classroom course, an online course, or home study and equivalency exam
  • This course involves providing enhanced knowledge of boating safety, emergency procedures and navigational rules
  • As of the end of January, 2021, more than 400,000 people in Washington had a Boater Education Card
  • Minimum fine for not carrying a valid Boater Education Card while operating a boat in Washington State is $99

One more thing on boating safety: Wear a personal flotation device.

Water, especially cold water, activates the mammalian dive response. This slows the heart and constricts blood vessels, according to University of Washington Pharmacology Professor Emeritus Frank F. Vincenzi.

It is a normal oxygen-saving reflex but when combined with certain other conditions, such as the consumption of alcohol, the slowing of the heart may bring on fatal heart arrhythmia. Sudden cardiac death in the water is usually classified as a fatal drowning.

It “might be good to remind folks to limit the intake of alcohol and other drugs when boating or swimming is on the agenda,” Vincenzi said in an email.

The Northwest Avalanche Center reported two skiers caught in an avalanche at Alpental Valley on April 10. Both survived, but the danger is real. So be careful out there!