A guide to staying safe as you explore Washington state’s beaches, park trails and bodies of water this summer.
STAYING SAFE WHILE ENJOYING PACIFIC NORTHWEST WATERS
We’ve all seen the ads and social-media videos of people heading out on their paddle boards, smiling, laughing and having a carefree time in the sun. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have access to some amazing water recreation, from Puget Sound to lakes large and small. With summer in full swing, local officials are reminding residents how to stay safe while swimming and playing in the region’s bodies of water.
COLD WATER SHOCK
While the air temperature might be 76 degrees or more above the water, the surface water may be close to 67 degrees for only the first five to eight feet. Below that, the water can be 10-15 degrees cooler, and farther down it gets even colder.
Get wet first. By splashing water onto your face before you start to paddle, you give your body the chance to adjust to the temperature.
Dress to get wet. Wear clothes, like a wetsuit or a paddling jacket, that will keep you warm in the water even if you don’t plan on going in.
Wetsuits are made from multiple layers of material with a main layer made of neoprene. They are designed to trap a thin layer of water between the suit and your skin. They are tight-fitting to keep the trapped water close against your body so your body heat can warm the water, keeping you warm.
Paddle jackets are a 1-2 layer nylon or polyester shell designed to be generally waterproof. Some have elastic or straight shell material at the neck and wrists with a bungee cord built into the waist band.
WHEN YOU FALL IN
Learn and practice the “1-10-1 rule.”
PERSONAL FLOTATION DEVICE (PFD)
Whether you are paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing or cruising in a speed boat, the PFD or life jacket is your best insurance from drowning. PFDs come in all different styles and price ranges just like car insurance. The one you choose should have an information panel that says it meets U.S. Coast Guard requirements. A little research will get you the best fit for your activity.
Sources: King County Sheriff’s Office, www.coldwatersafety.org.REI.com, westmarine.com
TWO HAZARDS TO AVOID AT THE BEACH: RIP CURRENTS AND SNEAKER WAVES
Rip currents are extremely strong, fast (up to eight feet per second) and can extend out from the shore for over 1,000 feet and reach a width of 100 feet.
Sneaker waves are large, fast-moving waves that appear with no warning after long periods (10 to 20 minutes) of calm surf and much smaller waves. They can surge up the beach more than 150 feet. Sneaker waves can lift and roll large beached logs, trapping or crushing people without warning.
Sources: graysharborbeaches.com, California Department of Parks and Recreation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
ESSENTIAL ITEMS FOR A HIKE
Whether it is a casual 30-minute walk on a well-known trail or a full day of hiking in the back country, you should be prepared for the unexpected, sudden change in the weather or finishing a hike in the dark because it took longer than originally planned.
Do not rely on your cellphone as a map or light source or as a survival tool. It will not always have cellular coverage in national parks, forests, valleys, mountains or other remote areas.
Here are the 10 essential items park officials encourage people to pack before going out on the trail:
BEFORE YOU GO
Make a trip plan
This information should be left with family or friends staying at home and not going on the trip. It can be very helpful to search and rescue teams in the case of an emergency and should contain the follow:
Where you will be hiking.
Who you are hiking with.
Contact information for you and those going with you.
When you plan to arrive and return from the hike.
Be weather ready
Check the weather conditions before you head out your hike. Pack the proper clothes and gear for the probable conditions as well as the existing weather.
Be trail smart
Check park website or at a ranger station for alerts on trail closures, wildfire risks or other hazards that are in or near your hiking area.
Prepare for altitude
Altitude sickness is not to be ignored.
If your planned hike is going to take you higher in elevation than you are used to, take extra time to adjust to the new heights.
Make sure to drink lots of water and do not overexert yourself on the trail. The mildest and most common symptoms are: Dizziness, headache, muscle aches and nausea.
The most important treatment for any level of altitude sickness is to safely go down to a lower elevation as soon as possible.
Source: National Park Service