King County requires life vests on major rivers

June 28, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Summer is prime time for river recreation in King County, as people seek to beat the heat in boats, canoes, kayaks, inner tubes and more.

Just before summer started, King County Council members adopted legislation June 20 to require personal flotation devices on major King County rivers starting July 1. The life-vest requirement is due to expire Oct. 31.

The measure requires people to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device on portions of the Raging, Snoqualmie, Tolt, Cedar, Green, Skykomish and White rivers in unincorporated areas.

The initial infraction carries only a warning. However, subsequent violations carry $86 fines. Enforcement is the responsibility of the King County Sheriff’s Office.

The legislation passed in a split decision. Issaquah-area representatives Councilwoman Kathy Lambert and Councilman Reagan Dunn joined other Republicans to vote against the measure.

(Though voters made the council nonpartisan in 2008, members continue to caucus along partisan lines on many issues.)

“I voted no because I believe educating the public about these dangers is more responsible than fining citizens,” Lambert said in a statement.

Eastside Fire & Rescue board members endorsed the measure in early June. County Executive Dow Constantine, Sheriff Sue Rahr, and other public health and safety officials, also backed the requirement.

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

Throughout the summer, health and safety officials plan to evaluate the rule and — relying on feedback from emergency responders and residents — determine whether changes should be made to the program or whether the requirement should be made permanent.

“Our rivers are beautiful and inviting this summer, but they are also deadly due to exceptionally high flows, cold temperatures and rechannelization from winter floods,” Councilman Larry Phillips, sponsor and Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee chairman, said in a statement. “Requiring personal floatation devices will allow people to enjoy King County rivers while saving lives and life safety resources.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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