King County Executive Dow Constantine has proposed a requirement for wearing personal flotation device (PFDs) on rivers in unincorporated King County. Under his proposal, swimmers, boaters and rafters could be fined $86 for failing to wear a Coast Guard approved PFD on a person’s second infraction.
Constantine would like the proposed ordinance be in effect throughout summer, a time when rivers in Western Washington are swift and cold due to heavy snowmelt and a turbulent flood season. The Snoqualmie, Tolt, Cedar, Green, White, Raging and Skykomish Rivers are the areas where the PFD ordinance would be enforced by the King County Sheriff.
Constantine believes that life vests are as
“essential for swimmers and boaters as helmets for cyclists and seat belts for drivers”
Constantine is supported by the King County Sheriff’s office along with other public safety and health officials including the River Safety Council, the American Red Cross of King and Kitsap Counties; the Tulalip Tribes; the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission; Sector Puget Sound of the U.S. Coast Guard; the national non-profit American Whitewater organization of whitewater enthusiasts, river conservationists, and paddling clubs; and Mountain View Fire and Rescue in Auburn, whose Swift Water Rescue Team responds to incidents along the middle Green River.
There is urgency in getting this ordinance passed as the rivers are especially high and swift this year. Several floods in King County also reshaped river channels and created new hazards in the waters.
Why cold rivers are dangerous
A person can quickly drown in a cold swift river. When the water is less than 70 Degrees Fahrenheit, a swimmer or boater’s chance of surviving a fall into the water is greatly reduced. The reason is that falling into cold weather can cause panic and shock. Shock is a life-threatening medical condition that affects a person’s circulatory system and can cause cardiac arrest even in the young.
Often when a person falls into cold weather, their first reaction is an involuntary breath in which they might inhale water, not air.
Shock can also cause disorientation which finds a person thrashing around and the cold water can numb a person’s arms and legs so they are useless. Pain then sets in and then hypothermia – a condition where the core body temperature drops below the required level for bodily functions – and a person’s pulse and respiration rates decreases and major organs fails. In situations where a person has been drinking alcohol, hypothermia sets in even quicker.
Every year, an average of 23 people die from drowning accidents in King County with two-thirds of these fatal accidents occurring in rivers, lakes and the Puget Sound.
In one King County Study, 61% of children under the age of 12 and 98% of the teenagers under the age of 18 were not wearing PFDs when they were observed floating on the Cedar River. This is already in violation of State law that requires that children under 12 must wear a PFD on vessels less than 19 feet in length.
Quite a lot of people writing on The Seattle Times blog complained that King County is playing “nanny state.” They feel that they don’t want to be told to wear a PFD while playing in and around the river.
A man drowned in the Snoqualmie River on May 22, 2011, but the new ordinance wouldn’t have saved his life, bloggers say, because he had no intention of going into the water the day he drowned as he only went into rescue his dog that was stuck in a current.
The piece of this campaign that The Farber Law Group applauds without reservation is the education piece of this campaign which focuses on drowning prevention and warns the public of the danger of playing on and around Western Washington waterways without a life vest.
This information is provided by Washington Injury Attorney blog, a service of The Farber Law Group. We represent people who have been seriously injured in boating and watercraft accidents due to the negligence of another and the family of those who have died.