Listen and live: Deputies implore boaters to wear life jackets

Listen and live: Deputies implore boaters to wear life jackets »Play Video
LAKE SAMMAMISH, Wash. -- "Can I get you a beer?" one deputy said to the other. "Sure, I'll have one."

An instant later, both men capsized in their canoe after one of them stood up to demonstrate how quickly reaching for the cooler can turn a pleasant day on the water into tragedy.

The beer and the cooler were pretend, but the message was very real.

"All if takes is a small miscalculation, and a little bit of ignorance about the water, and you can suddenly be fighting for your life," said Deputy Charlie Akers, a member of the King County Sheriff's Marine Dive Rescue Team.

The water rescue professionals held a demonstration on Lake Sammamish to remind boaters to wear life jackets, and hopefully change the minds of those who generally refuse.

Sgt. Jim Knauss, deputies Charlie Akers, Chris Bedker, Keith Bennett and Washington State Parks boating safety manager Derek VanDyke held the mock scenarios.

Using canoes, kayaks, rafts and rowboats, the team showed how easily simple mistakes can lead to trouble. Things like shifting weight suddenly and even standing to relieve one's bladder have led to drownings.

Of the five boating fatalities so far this year in Washington State, four of the victims were not wearing lifejackets.

"I have yet to recover a drowning victim off the bottom of a river or a lake that was wearing a lifejacket," said Deputy Bedker. "It's that simple."

Deputies and water safety officials are trying to combat an alarming trend. Nearly 60 percent of all boating fatalities are now happening to victims in human-powered watercraft.

"People love to get out on the water, you can rent kayaks and paddleboards, and it's easy to learn," said VanDyke. "But without some forethought or a little safety training, an inexperienced boater can unexpectedly fall in and panic."

VanDyke points out that it's not hypothermia that usually kills people. It's cold-water immersion, which triggers an involuntary physical response.

"You fall in the water, you suck in water into your lungs, you sink to the bottom and the King County Sheriff's picking you up off the bottom with their divers," he explained.

Lakes, rivers and Puget Sound are generally cold bodies of water, even once the weather turns warm. Lake Sammamish is an estimated 56 degrees right now, Lake Washington about 52 degrees, and the Sound 50, give or take a degree.

Deputies say there is a large selection of affordable, fashionable and comfortable life jackets available at stores. Some communities have started life jacket loaner programs.

"Our message is, enjoy all the beautiful water we have around here. It's a gift," said Sgt. Knauss. "Just do it safely and responsibly. That way you come home, and we don't have to inform your family something horrible's happened."