‘And then you just sink’: Yakima County sheriff’s deputies say boat safety checks save lives

Yakima County sheriff’s deputies are pushing people to prioritize boat safety after a man and his 12-year-old son were in a boating accident over the weekend that stranded them at Rimrock Lake.

Deputy Scot Swallow said the motor stalled when a loose bow line wrapped around the boat’s propeller and wind gusts blew the boat up against the steep bank.

“[The dad] didn’t realize it ’till we brought it back in; he had never thought the check the beltline where it was at,” Swallow said. “He’d spent a lifetime rebuilding this boat.”

Swallow said luckily, there were no injuries and no major damage to the boat, but he said things could have easily been worse if the circumstances were just slightly different.

Yakima County sheriff’s deputies offer free boat inspections

The Yakima County sheriff’s office provides free boat inspections to boat owners who want to make sure everything is operating correctly before they go out on the water.

Swallow said deputies do boat inspections at people’s houses as a courtesy service and won’t issue tickets unless the boat is actually in use. He said it’s better for people to know what to fix ahead of time, rather than getting a ticket from marine patrol on the water.

“If your boat’s at home, you’re not getting any tickets,” Swallow said. “If you’re up on the water all the way and you didn’t take care of it, there’s a chance you might get a ticket.”

Need your boat inspected? Call the Yakima County sheriff’s office at 509-574-2500 to set up an appointment.

Deputies: Boat safety checks critical before going out on the water

Regardless of whether a boat’s been inspected by the sheriff’s office, Swallow said people should do a boat safety check before each time they go out on the water and follow these steps to make sure everything is operating right:

  • Check the lights, fuel system, air cleaner and ventilation system
  • Run the blower for 10 to 20 seconds before starting the boat up to get rid of the gas fumes (Swallow said otherwise, a stray spark from the ignition could cause an explosion)
  • Make sure your plugs or in or your boat may sink
  • Check to ensure you have the right supplies
    • Paddle or oar (in case the motor quits)
    • Fire extinguisher
    • Throw bag or throwable seat cushion (to help someone who’s fallen in the water without jumping in after them)
    • Sounding device like a horn or whistle that can signal to others you’re in distress
    • Life jackets for everyone on board
  • Have your boater education card on hand

Swallow said people are required to have a boater education card to operate a boat. He said the sheriff’s office is putting together a class in the next couple of months for people to get that card.

Bring a life jacket or borrow one through Yakima firefighters’ program

Swallow said life jackets are a must for anyone planning to get out on a boat, including children, adults and even pets if you’re planning to bring them.

“A normal life jacket  — your red ones — you can get that at Walmart or Cabela’s or in almost any sporting goods store for like 10 bucks each,” Swallow said. “They’re very inexpensive and last forever.”

Swallow said if you can’t afford a life jacket, there are several programs within the city of Yakima and Yakima County that will loan life jackets to community members.

Swallow said the sheriff’s office is working on a program that would provide make life jackets available for people to borrow when recreating on Rimrock Lake or Clear Lake. He said that will hopefully be ready within a few months.

“Make sure they’re good condition they need to be coastguard approved,” Swallow said. “There are fake life jackets out there.”

Swallow said a good way to tell if a life jacket is authentic is by checking for the UL Marine mark on the inside of the jacket.

Ycso Ul Marine Listed

Stay vigilant on the water and be prepared for an emergency

Swallow said once in the water, it’s important to watch that the lines don’t get caught on the boat prop; if they do, there could be a repeat of Sunday’s incident on Rimrock Lake.

Additionally, Swallow said it’s important not overloading the boat with too many people, coolers or anything else that puts extra weight on the boat which could cause it to sink. He said people should also look out for other boats or debris in the water.

“There’s a lot of stumps that are only a couple inches under the water and  you can run into one of them, puncture your hull or hit your prop,” Swallow said. “Then you lose control and you can run into a bank or shore.”

Swallow said people should be aware of the various dangers they could encounter on the water and make a plan for how they might respond in each case.

“If it’s still floating, stay with the boat; if it catches on fire, you probably don’t want stay with the boat,” Swallow said. “Go in the water and hopefully somebody will see you and be able to call for assistance.”

Swallow said that’s why it’s important to have a way to communication with the outside world. He said having a cell phone is good, but it might not get reception depending on where you are.

“Always tell somebody where you’re at and let them know when you’re expected back and that you’ll check in,” Swallow said. “So that if you don’t, they can call us for help.”

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