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caption: A group of paddle boarders end their evening paddle on a small beach south of Golden Gardens on Monday, August 27, 2018, in Seattle.
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A group of paddle boarders end their evening paddle on a small beach south of Golden Gardens on Monday, August 27, 2018, in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

3 Washington deaths put focus on paddleboard safety

Hey, paddleboarders: The police are watching you, for your own good.

Three paddleboarders have drowned in Washington waters this month alone, and none was wearing a life jacket, according to authorities.

“People don't realize those are considered vessels under the law, both federal and state law. So they have to carry a life jacket with them ... and a whistle," said Christina Fremont with the Washington State Parks boating program.

So the Seattle Police Department’s harbor patrol checks paddleboarders, along with other boaters. Paddleboarding is a relatively new sport – there were just 11 deaths in 2017, according to U.S. Coast Guard figures, but that is up from none just a decade ago.

Which makes the number of deaths in Washington this year notable. Nearly half of all boating fatalities in the state involve paddle craft, like boards, kayaks and canoes.

Fremont reminds boaters and swimmers that while the weather may be warm, many of Washington's lakes and rivers are still dangerously cold.

"The physiological response that happens when you fall into cold water, you gasp. If you're underwater when you gasp, guess what happens? You drown,” she said.

She said even experienced swimmers are at risk in cold water.