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Drowning risks increase with spring’s warmer weather and faster water

As people start to flock to local beaches, lakes and rivers with the warmer weather, the state Department of Health urges parents to talk to their kids about water safety.

In late spring, water is extremely cold and mountain snowmelt creates fast-moving, debris-filled rivers and streams that increase the hazards for rafting, kayaking and swimming.

“Too many drowning tragedies happen this time of year, and we want parents to make certain their kids understand how to avoid danger,” said State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy.

She said, “It’s important for kids to be active and enjoy water activities, and it’s essential that parents prepare them for safety before they go.”

Drowning among teens and young adults often happen when they misjudge distance, current or temperature of the water. When fatigue or hypothermia set in, it takes only a few minutes before a person goes underwater. After going under, swimmers can lose consciousness in about two minutes and suffer permanent brain damage after only four minutes.

Reviews of drowning deaths over several years show that 70 percent happened in open water (lakes, rivers, ponds, creeks or Puget Sound). It’s natural for young people to push boundaries, compete with their friends and take on challenges that show their strength, endurance or bravery. And many young people don’t believe that their actions will lead to injury or death.

“Be direct – tell them that teens, especially boys, never expect that they’ll be the one who ends up as a tragic drowning statistic,” Lofy said.

“Show them how to identify dangers and how they can make choices that avoid the risk,” she said.

Alcohol use is involved in up to half of teen and adult drowning deaths.

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