The combination of the pandemic, opening up the state in the last few months, and the recent dry sunny weather, has resulted in paddle boards, kayaks and other human powered watercraft flying off the shelves. These cost effective ways to get out and enjoy our area waterways was already rising in popularity, but the recent unprecedented heat wave and opening up the state resulted in an explosion of sales.

As a result, many new people are on area waterways and finding themselves in trouble on the water. In the past month, four more people in Western Washington died as a result of drowning while using human-powered watercraft.

One way to combat tragedies such as these, is wearing a life jacket. Luckily, Coastal Farm and Ranch in Marysville is giving away 300 life jackets for kids up to 12 years of age on Saturday, July 24. The a Northwest owned company has 20 stores in Oregon and Washington, employing nearly one-thousand people. Their Monroe location gave away an additional 300 life jackets back in June. Like the previous giveaway, this is a first come, first serve event. The store is located at 9623 State Avenue in Marysville. The life jackets are 100% free to all families.

This week – July 18 through 24, 2021 – is Safe Paddle Week, the first ever week to raise additional awareness on safe use of human-powered watercraft on area waterways. Staying safe while enjoying area waters is what is critically important.

Nearly half of all boating fatalities in Washington involve paddlecraft. About 75% of people are not wearing a properly fitting life jacket. It may be summer, but area waters remain cold – particularly not far below the surface, and falling in produces what is called cold water shock. Like walking into a cold shower, the reflex to gasp results in inhaling water instead of air when falling into chilly waters, causing many of these drownings. Wearing a life jacket at least keeps you afloat and permits others to respond quickly.

Another key safety element for paddle boarders is to use an ankle leach tethered to your board. When you fall off, you tend to push the board away from you, and if the wind is blowing, the board will go with it. The tether will permit you to tow the board back to you while you float with your life jacket on.

Also have a sounding device on you such as a whistle or horn, and have at least one navigation light on your life jacket. These tools all permit others to find you quickly if needed and is required equipment by law.

Kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and other paddlecraft are all considered vessels and subject to all recreational boating laws. Less than 25 percent of paddlers have taken a boating safety course. The course includes not only safety equipment, but also rules of the road on the water and more. Once you complete the online course, you also get a boater education card that you can take with you on or near the water.

Another key step is to let someone at home or nearby know where you are going on the water and when you plan to return. This step is called filing a float plan, and permits your loved ones or friends to contact authorities in case you are late and the search can begin where you planned to be. And always check the weather forecast before heading out. Strong winds and choppy waters are not favorable for human-powered watercraft.

Summer is the season to get out of the house, head to the water, and have a fun yet safe time. Taking these Safe Paddle Week steps will help you, your family and your friends enjoy summer on the water to the fullest, safely.

North Sound Meteorologist Ted Buehner worked more than 40 years for the National Weather Service (NWS) from 1977 to 2018. He is now an Everett Post Media team member. Together with Everett Post Weather Minute Podcasts, he provides morning and afternoon commute traffic and weather updates on both KRKO and KXA Radio, and sports reporting on KRKO.