Safety officials asking people to take advantage of life jackets - KPTV - FOX 12

Safety officials asking people to take advantage of life jackets at Hagg Lake

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Warmer weather means people will start flocking to area lakes and rivers.

The increase in popularity of paddle boarding has officials asking people to be especially careful.

Every summer drowning incidents happen in local lakes and rivers, and the Oregon State Marine Board said that 85 to 90 percent of them could have been prevented by life jackets.

Marine Patrol officials at Hagg Lake said Thursday that there is some dangerous confusion when it comes to paddle boarding.

“People's perceptions might be, ‘Well the surfers don't wear them so I don't need it,’ ‘I’m not going very fast’ or ‘I'm in a protected area,’ but those false senses of awareness can sometimes overtake you,” Sgt. Ryan Hickey with the Washington County Marine Patrol explained.

Christopher Cocal picked up paddle boarding only a few months ago. He tries to go once a week, and always makes sure to wear a life jacket.

“Some people I know, they think they don't need a life jacket,” he said. “But I know there is a lot of stories about Hagg Lake people drowning, so I don't want to take chances.”

Officials also warn that paddle boarders shouldn't rely on using the board as a floatation device.

“You're already so close to the water, a slip or fall, especially with inexperience, is going to put you in the water,” Hickey said. “So you're already at a disadvantage because you don't have the safety equipment that you would typically in a boating vessel.”

Hickey also noted that paddle boarders are vulnerable to boater traffic, and can be influenced on the water by wakes and other obstructions.

In August 2014, four members of a family drowned in Hagg Lake, and none were wearing life jackets.

Officials have installed a moveable kiosk at Hagg Lake so life jackets can be close to the water.

They also want to remind people the average water temperature in Oregon is only between 40 degrees and 50 degrees year-round.

“As soon as you hit that water, your body has a natural tendency to gasp for air,” Hickey explained. “Depending on where you are, if you’re submerged and you gasp, you've already inhaled water and you're a drowning victim.”

But for those who follow that safety advice, paddle boarding can be a fun, peaceful way to enjoy the summer.

For anyone planning on going to Hagg Lake this weekend, consider bringing a life vest to donate to get free parking on Saturday.

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