As temperatures rise and summer peeks around the corner, more people feel tempted to take a dip in the river to cool off. Before you jump or even wade in, look for warning signs around the riverbank notifying you of fast currents, sharp rocks, or other hazards. A lack of signs doesn’t necessarily mean the water is safe, especially when snow is melting. This year, the snow is melting much more slowly than it usually does, meaning that the rivers will be dangerous for a longer period of time. In King County, a woman has already been hospitalized with life-threatening conditions after an accident in Green River, and the body of a drowned teenage boy was found in the Snoqualmie River.
Check the water temperature before swimming. Cool water might feel nice when you first step in on a hot, sunny, sticky summer day, but hypothermia can set in quickly in waters that are too chilly. Cold shock response can come on even quicker, and you could be hyperventilating from less than a minute in the water. Not only do you lose a lot of oxygen that way, you also risk swallowing large amounts of water. It can also increase your heart rate and blood pressure, putting you at more of a risk for a heart attack.
Just because one part of the river moves slowly, that doesn’t mean that the entire river will move at the same speed. When rivers narrow, the waters speed up. The shallowness of the water doesn’t matter much when the current is fast; if you’re standing, you could quickly be knocked off of your feet, swept down the river, and unable to swim away because of how fast the water is moving. Avoid areas where two rivers meet, as one river might have a different current than the other. Also, where two rivers converge, there might exist flow patterns and undercurrents that are difficult to swim through.
Never jump into a river to rescue someone who has fallen in, because you too could end up in harm’s way. Try to rescue the person from the shore instead.
Make sure you wear a lifejacket. There are plenty of lifejackets made for swimmers which only inflate when they’re activated, so you can be safe in case of an emergency without impacting your swimming. If you get in a bike accident, you should be wearing a helmet to protect your head. Similarly, if you get in a swimming accident, you should be wearing a personal floatation device to keep yourself from drowning. Always wear an appropriate lifejacket when doing other water activities such as waterskiing, boating, wakesurfing and paddleboarding.
King County maintains a page that lists known hazards in rivers within King County and where the hazards are located. To report a hazard, call the King County Sherriff’s Office Marine Unit at 206.296.3311. Stay safe and have fun this summer when playing in or around rivers or other waterways.
Ken Selander is a personal injury lawyer and boating accident attorney. He enjoys the water, and boats and wakesurfs in Lake Washington. If you are injured because of the carelessness or negligence of another boater, call Ken at 206.723.8200 for a free consultation.