Warmer weather draws many to water across the greater Spokane Valley Fire Department service area. The Spokane River, Liberty Lake and swimming pools are a great way to beat the heat. Often, people don’t think much about water safety — but they should. Nationally, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death for people between the ages of 5 and 24. Life jackets are essential, especially for children.
Enjoying the water doesn’t have to result in accidental death. Most water-related accidents can be avoided by knowing how to stay safe and following a few simple guidelines. Learning how to swim is essential if you plan on being on or near water. Many local organizations provide swim instruction to people of all ages.
Swimming in lakes and rivers differs from taking a dip in your local pool. The Spokane River runs very cold and fast, especially in the early summer. On area lakes you often have to share the water with boaters, water skiers and other recreational vehicles. Whether sandy or rocky, lake and river bottoms are often uneven and produce startling, sudden drop-offs into deep water. You may have to contend with fish, seaweed and fishing residue such as fish hooks buried in the sand. Water conditions in lakes can be unpredictable, too.
Wear a Personal Flotation Device (Life Vest)
In Spokane County, “all persons, regardless of age, shall wear a personal flotation device while on moving water. This personal flotation device shall not derive its buoyancy from air or compressed gas (e.g.: inflatables).” Spokane County Sheriff Deputies will assess a $76 fine for not wearing a personal flotation device on the Spokane River, per the Spokane County Code of Ordinances. Under the Washington State Supreme Court Monetary Penalty Schedule (IRLJ 6.2), the fine for not wearing a personal flotation device while boating on lakes is $99. Loaner life vests are often found at trailheads along the Centennial Trail near the Spokane River.
Get to Know Your Surroundings
River or lake swimming safety begins with a good understanding of what dangers are posed to swimmers. In some glacier-fed lakes or rivers, hypothermia is a real risk, even on warm summer days. Know what the water temperature is before you wade in. Find out what the lake or river depth is so you can dive safely. Better yet, avoid diving into any unknown body of water. Test your cell phone on shore, as carrier signals vanish on many remote lakes and rivers. Know where the emergency call boxes and rescue equipment are located.
Never Swim Alone
Lakes are typically large, wide and deep. Even when the lake or river is crowded with swimmers and boaters, you should never venture out alone. Always swim with a buddy or in a group. Be aware of who is in your group and where they are at all times. Rivers flow fast and cold early in the summer. Lake rip tides can pull a swimmer under and away from shore very quickly. Learn to recognize lake or river conditions so you can avoid potentially dangerous situations.
Watch For Weather Hazards
Lake and river hazards can come from the sky above. Read or listen to a weather report for the lake area or river before you set out for the day. If the weather threatens to turn unpleasant, take a portable battery-operated radio to listen for weather alerts. Leave the water at the first sound of thunder and don’t re-enter the water until at least 20 minutes after the last clap of thunder has passed.
Keep Children Safe
If you take children to swim in the river or lake, keep them in your sight all times. Strong underwater currents can catch youngsters by surprise and pull them under in seconds. Children should always wear life vests in the water. Be prudent about allowing them into the water after a meal, or if they are over-heated. Take along a beach umbrella to provide shade and a cool place for children to rest between swims.