King County could require life vests on rivers

June 4, 2011

By Staff

NEW — 6 a.m. June 4, 2011

King County Executive Dow Constantine, backed by public and health officials and organizations, has called for a summerlong requirement for life vests on major rivers in unincorporated areas.

The tumultuous winter flood season changed river channels and reoriented logs, creating a challenge for boaters and swimmers. The snowpack in some Cascade river basins is about 200 percent of normal. The substantial snowpack could mean higher-than-normal river flows well into the summer recreational season.

“This proposal will help save lives,” Constantine said in a statement. “River flows are unusually swift and cold this year due to a heavy mountain snowpack that is melting into King County rivers. Rivers are inherently dangerous places to play, but this year is bringing additional risks. The wearing of life jackets is as essential for swimmers and boaters as helmets for cyclists and seat belts for drivers.”

If the County Council approves the measure Monday, the proposed ordinance is due to last through the summer recreation season until Oct. 31.

Councilman Larry Phillips sponsored the measure.

“The public needs to be aware that our rivers are even more dangerous than usual this summer,” he said in a statement. “Requiring swimmers, floaters and boaters to wear life vests is a practical action that allows people to get out and enjoy our beautiful rivers without undue safety risks.”

The proposal calls for the King County Sheriff’s Office to enforce wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device on portions of the Raging, Snoqualmie, Tolt, Cedar, Green, Skyhomish and White rivers in unincorporated areas. For first-time violators, the penalty is a warning, but subsequent violators could face fines of up to $86.

“We support this proposal,” Sheriff Sue Rahr said in a statement. “The vast majority of river accidents to which our Marine Unit responds could have been prevented if recreationalists had simply worn a PFD, had been sober, or had a better understanding of the dangerous nature of rivers.”

The proposed ordinance calls for the county to post signs at primary access points to major rivers, and to join regional organizations focused on drowning prevent to promote life vest use.

The most recent drowning in the Issaquah area occurred in June 2010 at Lake Sammamish State Park in unincorporated King County.

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Comments

One Response to “King County could require life vests on rivers”

  1. Anonymous on June 7th, 2011 2:55 am

    Since the problem is, according to the article, drowning as a result of a combination of currents AND cold water temperatures, I think in addition to life vests or PFDs, everyone in the river should also be required to wear a wetsuit to protect them from the cold. And a diving helmet and oxygen tanks. Add a safety line that’s fastened to an immovable object on the shore.

    And why limit this only between June and Halloween each year? It needs to be year ’round since people fall into the rivers year ’round.

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