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Keep heat, water safety in mind

Patrick Brashler, 11, receives a final check on his lifejacket from his father, Keith, before they take their boat into Ebey Slough. - Kirk Boxleitner
Patrick Brashler, 11, receives a final check on his lifejacket from his father, Keith, before they take their boat into Ebey Slough.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

MARYSVILLE — With school out for summer and the weather getting hotter, many families are heading to their local rivers and lakes to cool down and have fun, but city and county officials warn that anyone entering those waters needs to keep safety in mind, especially if they have children in tow.

City of Marysville Parks and Recreation Director Jim Ballew welcomes visitors to use the boat launch at the Ebey Waterfront Park, but wants to make sure they’ll be able to return without incident.

“Our boat launch gets a lot more traffic during July and August,” Ballew said. “What we worry about with inexperienced boaters is making sure that they’re not overloading their boats. You don’t want to be bringing a big cooler and lawn chairs on board a six-foot boat.”

Ballew also advised anyone entering Ebey Slough to exercise extreme caution with the current.

“We’ve noticed a trend of folks going into Ebey Slough on paddle-boards, which I’d recommend against,” Ballew said. “Anyone who’s going into the water, even if it’s on a boat, should be wearing a lifejacket, but even with that, swimming in the slough is dangerous because the current is so quick. It can reach 8-9 knots.”

Even those who wear their lifejackets and stay in their boats need to read their tidal charts, according to Ballew, since a mistimed low tide could prevent them from getting back to port.

Especially in the wake of the June 30 drowning of 10-year-old Elijah Spratt on the Stillaguamish River, Lt. Rodney Rochon of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office Marine Services Unit wants to educate the public well enough that his rescue services will never be needed.

“Speaking on behalf of all of us in the Marine Services Unit, our goal is to put ourselves out of business,” Rochon said. “Parents need to pay attention to children in the water, whether it’s a tub, a pool, a lake or a river. At Haller Park and Twin Rivers Park in Arlington, the Stillaguamish River can look so calm, but it’s always moving, and there are all sorts of hidden hazards under the water’s surface, from rocks to logjams.”

Rochon lamented that one water safety program has proven a bit too popular, since the loaner lifejacket cabinet at Gissberg Twin Lakes County Park that was stocked with 20 lifejackets just a few weeks ago now boasts only three.

“If you have one of those lifejackets, just bring them back,” Rochon said. “We won’t file charges against anyone, but people who take those lifejackets home jeopardize the program. When families come to the park and there aren’t any lifejackets there, that ruins some other child’s day.”

Just as the current in Ebey Slough can change direction with the tides, so too did Rochon note that places like Twin Rivers Park are hazardous for swimmers because the two forks of the Stillaguamish River converge there.

“You’re also dealing with the temperature differential of water that was snow 8-10 hours before,” Rochon said. “The air may be 70-90 degrees, but the water is nowhere near that warm. You have a 50/50 chance of being able to swim 50 yards in 50-degree water. If there’s any kind of current, your chances are even worse.”

Mark Murphy, senior program manager for the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management, elaborated that colder waters and swifter currents tend to go together, since melting snow can cause both.

“And when you go from that hot summer sun to plunging into water that’s only 40-50 degrees, your body says, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in trouble,’” said Murphy, who encouraged Western Washingtonians to be aware of how the heat affects them even on dry land. “We’re not acclimatized to this sort of weather on this side of the mountains. It’s not hideous, but especially if you get humidity or bad air quality, the heat can sneak up on you.”

To that end, no matter how quick your car trips, Murphy urged motorists not to leave children or animals in parked cars.

“It might be 70-80 degrees outside, but it can reach 100 degrees in as little as 10 minutes inside your car,” Murphy said. “If you get hot when you’re out and about, go to a shopping center or a grocery store or a public library, since they’re likely to have air conditioning, and don’t sit around drinking beer or coffee, because your body won’t react well to that.”

If you plan on laying beside the water rather than diving in, Murphy would remind you to use sunscreen lotion as well.

“A lot of folks are working on their yard tans, but again, we’re not used to this kind of weather, so it’s easy to overdo it,” Murphy said. “My sister got red from too much sun just recently, and it makes you miserable. Nine months out of the year, we don’t have to deal with any of this stuff, so just be careful.”

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