It’s easy to get in trouble on the water, and no one knows that better than James Jones of the Olympia Police Department’s Volunteer Harbor Patrol.
Jones – along with Jerry Cross and Rich LaRosa – recently won the National Safety Award from the United States Power Squadron for saving two boys marooned on a rock during a July 2007 high tide.
“Well, a lot of it is people not wearing life preservers,” Jones said. “And, obviously, another problem is people going too fast.”
Jones has been a Harbor Patrol Volunteer for four years, and he spends three days a month patrolling Budd Inlet during the boating season.
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Many boaters don’t stay in the marked channel – which is the only safe route in Budd Inlet, Jones said.
“Every now and then, people who are not used to high tides or low tides run aground,” Jones said. “There are spoil banks and shoals, but if you stay in the channel, you’ll be safe.”
Water safety – whether in Puget Sound, South Sound rivers or lakes – is always an issue in late spring and early summer, said Dona Wolfe, boating education coordinator for Washington State Parks.
According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 20 boaters died in Washington in 2008, and five have died so far in 2009, Wolfe said.
These numbers sound terrible, but they are actually an improvement.
“During the past five years, our boating safety has been getting better,” Wolfe said. “Five or six years ago, we were averaging 30 fatalities a year.”
Mandatory boater education – boaters ages 12 to 25 must pass a mandatory safety course to pilot a boat with engines of 15 horsepower or greater – has helped, Wolfe said.
By 2014, all boaters 60 and younger will have to pass the course to run a boat equipped with a motor of that size.
Even though more boaters are taking boater safety classes, they still flirt with accidents and death, Wolfe said.
Here’s what boaters can do to reduce the risks of boating:
• Wear a life jacket while on the water. Cold water can make it almost impossible to put on a life jacket after a boater falls or is thrown out of a boat, Wolfe said.
• Remember that Puget Sound and local rivers are very, very cold – even on a hot day.
• Check conditions, such as the weather forecast or possible releases of water from dams, before launching a boat.
• Don’t drink alcohol or take drugs before or during a boating expedition.
• Don’t pilot your boat in a reckless way.
• Watch for swimmers in the water.
• Don’t go out boating if the weather turns nasty, and come in early if the weather seems to be getting worse.
• Know your boat, and don’t overload your boat.
• Know that Puget Sound tides can change water levels by 10 feet or more in just six hours.
Boating doesn’t have to be dangerous – if boaters take the safety class, follow the rules and use common sense.
Jones and his fellow Harbor Patrol volunteers do just that, and they have a great time on Budd Inlet.
“It’s always fun to be on the water – and serving the public,” Jones said.
The Olympia Sail and Power Squadron will offer a boater safety class June 6 at the Lacey Fire Department Headquarters Station, 1231 Franz St., Lacey. The class begins at 8 a.m., and the cost is $40. For more information, call 360-493-1678.
For more information about Washington’s Mandatory Boater Education law, go to www.parks.wa.gov.