With the mercury on the rise toward the weekend, the Oregon State Marine Board wants to remind people to play it safe on and around the water by wearing a life jacket.
“Every year when the first warm temperatures arrive, many people decide to cool off by hitting the water,” says Brian Paulsen, Boating Safety Program Manager for the Marine Board. “With the great snowpack, you can guarantee as it’s melting it’s going to be frigid. It’s incredibly important everyone wear a life jacket and dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature.” Cold water shock is a leading cause of drowning and hypothermia from cold water immersion.
In 2022, there were 16 recreational boating fatalities, and 10 victims were not wearing life jackets. Of the fatalities, seven of the victims were in paddlecraft, and three were in motorboats. Because Oregon is considered a cold water state, water temperatures remain cold (under 70 degrees) most of the year. Lake and river water temperatures are in the low 50 degrees, and so is the Pacific Ocean.
A life jacket also needs to fit correctly. An inherently buoyant lifejacket (one with foam flotation) should be buckled snugly and should not rise above a person’s ear lobes. Try the touch-down test, especially when fitting children and youths. Have them lift their arms next to their head and pull the jacket from the shoulders. If it rises to the ear lobes or higher, then the life jacket is too big.
“It’s also important to boat with others. One of the stand-out points from 2022 is that nine of the victims were solo operators boating alone,” Paulsen says. The Marine Board recommends always having a co-captain when operating a motorboat and boating with other people when paddling. “Awareness, preparation, and good decision making, along with wearing a life jacket, will help boaters have a safe experience on Oregon’s waterways,” Paulsen adds.