The recent boating tragedy in Crescent Harbor should serve as a reminder to boaters about the potential hazards of being on the water.
In that case, an accidental mechanical problem and tall waves combined to capsize a boat with two men aboard. The 80-year-old man was able to make it to shore but the 72-year-old died in the water.
North Whidbey Fire and Rescue responded to several other marine calls in a short period of time that windy day.
Chris Garden, former head of the sheriff’s marine safety unit, cautioned that boaters, sailors, fishermen and fisherwomen and paddlers should remember that the weather can change quickly around Whidbey Island. People should pay attention to weather reports and be prepared.
Next week is the state’s first Paddle Safe Week. As the popularity of “paddlesports” grows and rates of accidents increase, the State Parks’ Boating Program is leading an effort to promote safe paddling.
Last year, 138 people in the nation died while kayaking or canoeing, according to Coast Guard statistics. In many instances, life jackets were on board but not worn.
State Parks reports that close to half of all boating fatalities in the state involved paddlecraft over the last six years. According to the Boating Program, the top factors contributing to fatal accidents were failure to wear a life jacket, operator inattention and inexperience, alcohol and drug use, hazardous waters, weather conditions and navigation rule violations.
The safety tips recommended by the Boating Program for paddlers extends to all boaters and sailors:
l Get educated. Know the laws and take a course.
l Always wear a life jacket. Or, at least, have one handy. Children, age 12 and younger, are required to wear life jackets at all times
l Carry essential gear. Depending on the type of watercraft, that might include a cell phone in a plastic bag, a VHF marine radio and some type of loud noise maker.
l Avoid alcohol and drugs. The state’s boating under the influence laws apply to all boats including kayaks, canoes, stand up paddleboards, rowboats and inflatable fishing rafts.
l Check and understand the weather. Check the weather frequently before and during your trip, keeping an eye on current conditions and forecasts. Check warnings, weather conditions, wind and wave forecasts, tides and current conditions or river flows.
l Protect against cold-water shock. Falling into water under 60 degrees is dangerous; the biggest risk is not hypothermia but cold-water shock.