Tag Archives: ID stickers

Boaters, kayakers, etc.: Please take heed and be safe out on the water

With the weather warming up and opening day of boating season just around the corner, I would like to take a moment to mourn for those who have lost their lives in boating accidents.

A kayak adrift near Vashon Island raised alarms for the Coast Guard on March 31.
Photo: Coast Guard, 13th District

More importantly, I would like to share some information about boating safety, because I keep thinking about Turner Jenkins, the 31-year-old visitor from Bathesda, Md., who lost his life in January when his kayak tipped over at the south end of Bainbridge Island. (See Kitsap Sun and Bathesda Magazine.)

Every year, it seems, one or more people lose their lives in the frigid waters of Puget Sound — often because they failed to account for the temperature of the water; the winds, waves and currents; or their own skills under such conditions. An Internet search reveals a long list of tragedies in our region and throughout the country.

This warning is not to scare people away from the water. I will even tell you how to enjoy Opening Day events at the end of this blog post. I can assure you that my own life would be much poorer if I chose to never be on, near or under the water. But for those who venture forth in boats, you must do so with your eyes wide open to the dangers — especially if your craft is a paddleboard, kayak, canoe or raft.

So let’s go over the “Five Golden Rules of Cold Water Safety,” according to the National Center for Cold Water Safety. Click on each one for details:

  1. Always wear your PFD
  2. Always dress for the water temperature
  3. Field test your gear
  4. Swim test your gear
  5. Imagine the worst that can happen

While gathering information for this blog post, I spoke to Susan Tarbert, who manages West Marine in Bremerton. She told me that it is impossible to predict your body’s reaction to cold water until you are plunged into that bone-chilling situation.

Kayakers near Port Gamble
Photo: Kitsap Sun

“There are all kinds of things that you think you will do, but you just don’t know,” Susan told me.

She said she was out on Puget Sound in a boat with her husband when she leaned up against a gate on the boat’s rail. It was a gate that was always locked — until this time, she said. She splashed down into the water, wearing a heavy coat and boots.

“As my husband pulled me up, he said, ‘Don’t you know the first thing you do is take off your boots?’ Yes, I know,” Susan responded. “But when it happens, you are so cold that you just want out. Falling in the water is not what you think it will be.”

Since then, Susan has been spreading the word about being aware of the risks while having fun on the water.

Because everyone reacts to cold water differently, one of the suggestions mentioned in the “rules” above is to swim-test your gear before going out in a small watercraft. That means putting on whatever clothing you plan to wear on the water and jump right into the shallows, or tip over your boat under controlled conditions. The more you can do to prepare, the better off you will be if something goes wrong. For additional info, read Ocean Kayak’s “Basic Safety Tips.”

Because of the dangers of cold water, the Coast Guard automatically launches a search for a missing person whenever someone reports an unoccupied boat of any size floating on the water. That includes surfboards and paddleboards. KIRO-TV reporter Deedee Sun describes the problem in the video below, which can be viewed full-screen.

Coast Guard alarms went off on Sunday, March 31, when a Washington State Ferries captain reported a kayak adrift between Vashon Island and West Seattle. A Coast Guard crew began a search, which could have gone on for awhile except that a group of campers called in a report. It turned out that the kayak was one of five that had drifted away from the shore of Blake Island, where six kayakers had been camping. Check out the news release from the Coast Guard’s 13th District.

Even in Hawaii, drifting surfboards and kayaks frequently lead to the dispatching of boats, helicopters and shoreline search teams, based on the outside chance that someone may be in danger — even when there are no reports of missing persons. See the Honolulu Star Advertiser from April 2 and The Maui News from March 27.

Every year before boating season, the Coast Guard sends out news releases to encourage people to label their watercraft with names and phone numbers at a minimum.

“Every unmanned-adrift vessel is treated as a potential distress situation, which takes up valuable time, resources and manpower,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brook Serbu, command center chief for the Coast Guard’s 13th District in Seattle. “When the craft is properly labeled, the situation can often be quickly resolved with a phone call to the vessel owner, which minimizes personnel fatigue and negative impacts on crew readiness.”

The Coast Guard usually takes possession of drifting vessels. If the owner can’t be found in a reasonable amount of time, a vessel may be destroyed or turned over to the state for disposal, according to the latest news release.

The Coast Guard promotes the use of special identification stickers made available through the Coast Guard Auxiliary. I have had trouble the past few years getting hold of anyone in the Auxiliary who can provide the stickers, and my pleas for the Coast Guard to provide a simple email address or phone number have gone unheeded.

Auxiliary officials generally provide the Coast Guard’s orange “If found … “ stickers to outdoor recreation stores, but there seems to be a backlog of requests to get them at the moment, according to Susan Tarbert of West Marine. She still has a supply, however, of the Coast Guard’s silver “Paddle Responsibly” checklist, which has a place for a name and phone number. Both stickers contain adhesive on the back to attach to the inside of a kayak.

Susan also recommends sticking reflective circles on your paddles to help power boaters spot paddlers in low-light conditions. The movement of the paddles sends out a noticeable signal, she said. All the stickers, as well as informative brochures, are provided free, and officials with the local Coast Guard Auxiliary visit the stores to restock the materials.

Doug Luthi, manager of West Marine in Gig Harbor, says he has both stickers on hand. Drew Pennington, who manages the Olympic Outdoor Center store in Poulsbo, said he expects his supply to be restocked soon.

As for the fun part of boating, anyone can enjoy Opening Day, whether or not you have a boat or even know someone with a boat. Seattle Yacht Club leads the tradition that dates back to the opening of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 2013. Besides the boats that pass through the Ballard Locks and join the Parade of Boats in the ship canal, visitors can watch crew races, a sailboat race and other festivities.

Visit the Seattle Yacht Club’s “Opening Day” website for a complete schedule of events, which officially begin Wednesday, April 1.