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A few easy tips that can save your life on the water

A few easy tips that can save your life on the water

As sunshine and 70s become more common this time of year, so do the spontaneous trips out to enjoy the warmth out on the water. And with that comes the busiest time of the year for water rescuers.

Sadly, May is the month with the highest amount of water-related fatalities in the Northwest and this year is no different.

The Coast Guard reports nine people have already died this year alone -- well ahead of the pace of a typical year. And unlike most years which seem to have a roughly even split between deaths via boat and via personal watercrafts like kayaks and paddleboards, this year has been heavily weighted toward paddle board, rafting and kayak accidents.

I recently got to meet with several officials from the Coast Guard and other boating safety agencies and they had some excellent tips to stay safe this summer -- many are so simple, yet so important. And while many of them you've likely heard before, it was a valuable learning lesson for me as to why these tips are so important.

* Wear a lifejacket -- it really does save lives. Here's why:

For those going on the water, this mantra is akin to "don't run with scissors" but there is a good reason why it's important. Many people might think, especially if they're in calmer, inland waters, "Oh, if I fall off a boat or kayak, I'm a good swimmer. I can easily just make the short swim back to the boat."

But the waters around here are very chilly -- 50-53 degrees or so in Puget Sound; even colder in rivers with snow melt. It might be 80 degrees outside but when you hit the frigid water, your body will go into initial shock. You'll take a big, sudden gasp of air, followed by potential hyperventilating.

For some, this initial shock can have you take a chest full of water and make you quickly drown. This shock phase lasts about a minute, but during this time, your boat or kayak or whatever, may begin to float away in the current. By the time you regain your wits, the boat may be farther away. Or, if you figure you'll just have a lifevest under the chair and grab it if you fall in, well, that's not going to help if you can't move or swim to go retrieve it.

That leads into your next challenge: your body's battle to keep itself warm. Over the next 10 minutes, you will lose the effective use of your fingers, arms and legs for any meaningful movement, according to the Coast Guard. Pretty soon you'll have what rescuers call "swim failure" -- your muscles and limbs will be cramping and unable to move enough to keep you afloat. Without a lifejacket, this is when most drownings occur.

While many might think that hypothermia could cause your doom -- rescuers say actually most could survive an hour in the cold waters here - maybe longer depending on your body type and health. This is where the lifejacket is crucial because it buys you this critical hour to be rescued. Having a life jacket will keep you afloat during that initial shock phase and the 10 minute "body shutdown" phase.

The Coast Guard calls this the "1-10-1" rule -- 1 minute of initial shock, 10 minutes of body shutdown and 1 hour to survive in the water before hypothermia.

Also, make sure you have a lifejacket that fits. The Coast Guard warns that especially for children, many parents try to "buy the next size up" so that the kids can grow into them, but if the lifejacket is too large now, it'll slip right off over their heads when they hit the water. The Coast Guard says they do frequent demonstrations asking a parent to put on a lifejacket for their child, think its secure, only to have an officer walk up and simply pull the lifejacket off over the kid's head.

* Have a VHF Radio, not just a cell phone.

This is the best way for your call for help to be heard by a number of people nearby. Lt. Ben Crowell, who commands the U.S. Coast Guard base in Seattle, says to think of a cell phone conversation -- that's only going to be heard between you and the person on the other end. But if you use a VHF radio, your call for help goes out over the region, likely alerting someone close by to your need for rescue and could make the difference. The Coast Guard actively monitors Channel 16 and will be there to help if you get in serious trouble.

* Have a plan -- make sure everyone knows about it.

Make sure before you go out on the water, be it boating, sailing, or paddle boarding, that people know when you're supposed to be back -- and just as critical, alert them to any changes. Crowell says the Coast Guard is full of stories of launching a rescue to search for someone "overdue" who had instead, canceled the trip, forgot to tell anyone, and had been sitting at home watching TV as Puget Sound is criss-crossed by rescue helicopters and boats looking for you. On the other hand, if you're by yourself, you didn't bring a VHF radio, and are now alone in the water, they'll know if something bad did happen sooner.

* Take a class!

Boating safety classes are already a good idea, but did you know you can also take safety classes for personal watercrafts like kayaks, canoes and paddle boarding? Many people just think it's easy to just go push a kayak out into the water, but even fairly light winds can create some fairly turbulent waters, and do you know what to do if you spill over? Just Google around and you can find them. A few hours here can make a big difference later.

* Check the weather -- especially the winds!

Things change around here, especially in the summer where a 90 degree, sunny, calm day at 3 p.m. can turn into a raging 30 mph wind at 7 p.m. when a marine push comes racing in. Afternoon seabreezes kick up to, so be sure to check the marine forecast from NOAA.

Also be wary if you see in the forecast a hot day followed by a much cooler day -- usually those cool downs come with the strong punches of wind in the evening of the final hot day of the heat stretch, especially our days that are 85+. If the forecast shows Monday is going to be 89, Tuesday's 93 and Wednesday's 74 -- be wary of sudden winds Tuesday evening.

* Get the Coast Guard App (Coming soon)

Coming May 16, the Coast Guard will be launching a new app for Android and iOS that will have a host of important boating safety information as well as a way to send a distress call. you can find out more what the app can do here.

* Have fun!

That one's easy! Oh, and stay safe!

Watch: Lightning strikes two jets on approach to Sea-Tac Airport

Watch: Lightning strikes two jets on approach to Sea-Tac Airport

SEATTLE -- Some of the people on their way into Seattle Wednesday evening got quite the hello from Mother Nature as lightning struck two different jets as they approached Sea-Tac Airport.

University of Washington student Owen Craft was out in the University District trying to film lightning strikes as a thunderstorm moved through and caught the two massive bolts as they passed through the planes' fuselage.

"I was stunned for a second because I couldn't believe what I just saw," Craft said. "After the second (plane) got hit, I knew I was on to something spectacular!"

Northern Lights turn region's skies green for St. Patrick's Day

Northern Lights turn region's skies green for St. Patrick's Day
Photo of the Northern Lights as seen from Picnic Point in Edmonds early on the morning of March 17, 2015. (Photo courtesy: Julia Kelley)

Surprise!

A bit of a sneaky and severe solar storm hit the planet last night, bringing a show of the Northern Lights in the wee hours of St. Patrick's Day morning.

The photo above was taken by Julia Kelley who went down to Picnic Point Beach last night to catch some fresh air and relax.

Northern Lights peek out over Northwest

Northern Lights peek out over Northwest
Photo of Northern Lights on 15 second film exposure as seen from Mukilteo on Feb. 23, 2015. (Photo: Liem Bahneman)

It was a bit of a surprise considering there wasn't much solar flare activity but the Northern Lights made a faint appearance over Western Washington Monday night.

2 routine events combine for spectacular scene over Canadian skies

2 routine events combine for spectacular scene over Canadian skies
Photo of a "FallStreak" cloud spotted over Surrey, B.C. at sunrise on Feb. 22, 2015. (Photo courtesy: Zora Fernandez)

Those who were up early enough Sunday morning in Surrey, B.C. and happened to look up were treated to a spectacular scene in the heavens that looks like something straight out of the imagination of a futuristic Hollywood alien blockbuster film.

In actuality, it was the combination of two rather routine events that just happened to have impeccable timing:

A sunrise (one for the ages on its own) …and a plane descending through a solid, stable cloud layer.

Rare, undulating clouds enchant visitors in Grand Teton

Rare, undulating clouds enchant visitors in Grand Teton
This photo taken Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015, and provided by the Grand Teton National Park, shows an unusual cloud formation across the summit of the Grand Teton in this view from the park's headquarters campus at Moose, Wyo. (AP Photo/Grand Teton National Park, Jackie Skaggs)
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A bizarre sheet of wispy clouds undulating over the Teton Range enchanted tourists and even veteran employees of Grand Teton National Park.

Drivers stopped along the park's main highway Thursday morning to gaze in awe and shoot photos of the rare phenomenon hovering over Grand Teton mountain. At 13,775 feet above sea level, the Grand Teton is the highest point in the Teton Range.

Oregon dust storm now blamed for 'milky rain' in Eastern Washington

Oregon dust storm now blamed for 'milky rain' in Eastern Washington
Photo of a dirty, milky substance that has fallen on cars outside the National Weather Service office in Spokane, Wash. on Feb. 6, 2015. (Photo courtesy: National Weather Service)


The mystery surrounding a white, milky rain that fell across Eastern Washington and parts of Oregon and Idaho Friday has a new theory, although I'd call it more of a tweak of the previous theory.

The event coated vehicles and windows in more than 15 cities, including Spokane, the Tri-Cities, and Hermiston, Oregon. Initial thoughts of the source originating as volcanic ash from a distant eruption or debris blown from summer wildfire-scarred terrain were quickly disproven.

This snowman will help put Alaska's massive storm in perspective

This snowman will help put Alaska's massive storm in perspective
This Sunday, March 2, 2014 photo shows a giant snowman created by Greg Novak in Gilman, Minn. (AP Photo/ St. Cloud, Jason Wachter)

With all the hype over the big storm off Alaska's (far) west coast and the talk of the impending arctic doom and gloom heading toward the Midwest this week being blamed on this storm, you might think the photo above is current -- or a forecast of how much snow is about to fall out there.

Well, no. Not quite.