PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Portland recently broke its record for the number of consecutive days with temperatures above 95 degrees. To keep cool during the heatwave, many in Oregon flocked to bodies of water, and not all of them made it back alive.

The most recent data available from the Oregon Health Authority show that 57 people drowned in natural waters in 2020, a 160% increase from the 35 reported in 2019. 

So far in 2022, there have been 11 boating-related deaths. 

The Army Corps of Engineers said life jackets may have prevented many of these deaths. 

“Heat waves can exacerbate drownings and accidents,” said Tom Conning, Portland District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson. “More people are out on the water, trying to cool off and they don’t always wear life jackets.” 

He said men, especially between the ages of 17 and 65, are the worst about wearing life jackets due to several things, “including their arrogance about swimming abilities.”

Even when temperatures climb to 90 or 100 degrees, water temperatures in the Pacific Northwest can still remain shockingly cold and can cause people to gasp when they enter or can cause hypothermia. 

“It’s already too late if you fall into the water unexpectedly without a life jacket, even if you know how to swim,” said Melissa Rinehart, Natural Resources Management chief. “We want everyone to enjoy their time at Corps parks and head home safely. We have over 20 life jacket loaner stations for those who don’t own a life jacket or forget to bring one.” 

The Army Corps of Engineers said recreational boating-related incidents and deaths are beginning to trend upward, especially as paddling activities like using kayaks and stand-up paddleboards become more popular. 

There were a record number of boating-related deaths in 2020 when 26 people died. 

“It makes you wonder, would 11 of the victims who weren’t wearing life jackets have survived if they’d been wearing one?” said Ashley Massey, public information officer for the Oregon State Marine Board. 

The U.S. Coast Guard’s nationwide recreational boating statistics from 2020 show nearly 86% of drowning victims would have survived if they’d worn a properly-fitted life jacket. 

The Army Corps of Engineers encourages everyone on the water to do the following: 

  • Wear a life jacket 
  • Know your swimming abilities – Swimming in natural waters is different from swimming in a pool and swimming ability decreases with age. 
  • Expect the unexpected – Water might be colder than you anticipate. Gasping can cause you to inhale water. 
  • Understand “boater’s hypnosis”: This can slow boaters’ reaction times almost as much as if they were legally intoxicated. 
  • Eliminate alcohol consumption – Consuming alcohol can cause people to become disoriented when underwater and not know which way is up. 

Another heat wave is on the horizon for the Pacific Northwest this weekend, with temperatures expected to hit more than 100 degrees on Sunday.