Rangers warn of water dangers ahead of Labor Day weekend

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Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death in the United States

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With the holiday weekend coming up, it’s a good time to keep water safety in mind.

With most river temperatures in the area running well into the 60s and low 70s, many people have relaxed water safety concerns — but even with warmer and calmer water, anywhere you go on the water this weekend could turn out to be dangerous if you’re not prepared.

Cruising along the surface of the Columbia River near Bonneville Dam, what could look more beautiful and refreshing on a 90-degree day than a plunge into the water? While that’s on many people’s agenda this weekend, the Army Corp of Engineers reminds everyone going into the water to prepare. No one expects to drown but most drownings happen within 15-feet off the shore and it can take as little as sixty seconds to become unconscious and drown.

“When you see somebody in the water, it might not be apparent they’re having problems,” Army Corp Park Ranger Monty Biggs explained. “A lot of time people will confuse the signs — their hands are up in the air yelling for help — maybe it looks like somebody is just having a good time. What is really key though, especially for children, is that we’re watching them closely for any signs they’re in distress.”

As Ranger Biggs reminds us, don’t jump in after someone if they are struggling — that’s a danger to both struggling swimmer and rescuer. What is better, he says, is to toss a throw bag or other flotation device to keep the person in trouble afloat. 

Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death in the United States and the Corp says almost 90% of people who drown were not wearing life jackets. Despite the calm surface of the water, weak swimmers can get into big trouble just a few feet from shore.

“A lot of times, the river has steep drop-offs — places where people feel they’re only wading in shallow water,” Biggs said. “It is very easy to go into deep water very quickly.”

The water, be it in the river or the ocean, is a natural place to cool off. But rangers want to make sure everyone’s water adventure stays safe and doesn’t turn deadly. Life vests for small children or weak swimmers are best way to have peace of mind. 

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