Multiple partners warn kayakers, canoeists and rafters to beware due to dangerous water conditions


SPOKANE, Wash. – April 7, 2016 - With near-record high temperatures predicted in the region today and tomorrow, numerous agencies urge extreme caution when recreating on rivers and lakes.

“We’re all excited about it being exceptionally warm outside, but this is still the time of year when water temperatures remain dangerously cold,” said Brian Schaeffer, assistant fire chief, Spokane Fire Department. “In the event of a capsize, sudden immersion in waters with temperatures like ours, in the 40s, can easily cause hypothermia.”

Extremely cold water makes it difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to keep their heads above water and stay afloat.

According to Washington State Parks accident data, the early season is usually a high-risk time for those recreating on open waters. From 2006 to 2015, between the months of January and June, approximately 59 percent of all boating fatalities occurred in vessels 19 feet in length and smaller. Additionally, about 71 percent of those victims were not wearing a life jacket.

The higher stream flows can also be hazardous—another great reminder to wear a life jacket. Anyone planning a river activity like kayaking, canoeing, rafting or floating on a tube should always check river levels and conditions before leaving home. 

Generally, around half of drowning victims in Washington state did not intend to be immersed in water. They were fishing in or near a river, riding in a boat, or wading, but slipped and fell in cold or swift water. 

Partners urge everyone to ensure they have the correct size and type of U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket, know how to swim and stay safe in and around water. Big 5 Sporting Goods stores offer a 25 percent off coupon for life jackets, through Sept. 30, available here.

“Wearing a life jacket is a lifesaving issue,” said Deputy Mark Gregory, public information officer for the Spokane County Sheriff’s office. “It’s better to be smart about what you’re doing and plan for the worst case scenario instead of having a bad situation arise.” 

All boaters should be prepared and follow these guidelines:

  • Be prepared to go into the water. Have a set of dry clothes available, and go with a group that can help rescue one another in a crisis.
  • Be a competent swimmer.
  • Be constantly alert for unexpected hazards.
  • Never use alcohol or drugs when boating or floating in a river. They dull important survival reflexes and impair decision-making skills.

More drowning prevention information can be found on the Inland Northwest Drowning Prevention Coalition’s web site at Information can also be found at SRHD’s web site offers comprehensive, updated information about Spokane Regional Health District and its triumphs in making Spokane a safer and healthier community. Become a fan of SRHD on Facebook to receive local safety and wellness tips. You can also follow us on Twitter @spokanehealth.