Welcome to May, the most dangerous month of the year for Washington’s recreational boaters.
The hunger to get outdoors — possibly in a new sport, with new equipment and in marginal weather — helps drive people to state waterways, too often without a proper sense of the danger, officials say.
The month of May, over the past 14 years, has seen a total of 55 recreational-boating deaths in Washington. July has been a close second with 51.
This year is off to an unfortunate start: By the end of April, nine people had died in boating incidents in the state, compared with an average of 5.6 deaths in that four-month period over the previous decade.
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The numbers relate strictly to recreational boating, which includes motorized and human-powered craft, but doesn’t count swimmers who drown or deaths linked to commercial vessels, such as fishing boats.
Many boating deaths could be prevented if proper safety procedures are followed, said Dan Shipman, Coast Guard district program manager for recreational-boating safety.
Life vests should be considered a must and should be worn at all times, particularly by children and by anyone paddling a canoe, kayak or paddleboard, Shipman said.
But life vests alone can’t protect someone from water’s chilling effects, called “cold-water shock,” which can lead to someone gasping for breath and inhaling water, or even having a heart attack within minutes after hitting the water.
In mid-April, a man and woman on a church-group kayak outing along Dungeness Spit on the Olympic Peninsula died after their kayaks overturned in heavy winds and high waves, even though everyone in the group had life vests.
Would-be rescuers said the kayakers should have worn wet or dry suits and heeded a forecast that called for stormy weather.
Derek VanDyke, boating-education coordinator for Washington State Parks, said of the nine people who have died in boating accidents so far in 2015, five were in kayaks, two were in inflatable craft, one was in a canoe and one was in a power boat.
Safety officials say people in kayaks and canoes should be prepared to deal with the possibility of capsizing and know how to right and get back in their craft.
Coast Guard safety officers recommend that boaters — even those in paddle vessels — carry and use a marine VHF-FM radio set to Channel 16 for the quickest and most effective way of calling for help in an emergency on the water.
People who use canoes and kayaks can find more safety tips, and information on a free, online paddling-safety course, at www.parks.wa.gov/832/Paddle-Boats.