PORTLAND, OR -- The first heat wave of the season is expected this weekend for many parts of Oregon. But, hot weather could lead to deadly consequences for those hoping to cool off on the water.
Ashley Massey, with the Oregon State Marine Board, says rivers and lakes could be as cold as 50-degrees, despite outdoor temps in the 90s. "All bodies respond the same way to cold water." She tells KBND News the first minute someone is in the water, it’s critical their head stays above the surface, "When you hyperventilate, you can easily experience the gasp reflex and suck in water." In the first 10 minutes, cold water shock sets in, "That’s when the blood from your body is going to start going towards your core, to keep your core functions warm. You’ll lose dexterity and your muscles may begin to cramp when you start moving. And this is also a period of time when we lose folks to drowning; it doesn’t matter how good a swimmer you are." After that, within the first hour someone is in the water, hypothermia begins, "To be honest, in Oregon, we don’t lose people to hypothermia. It’s that first 10 minutes, where we lose folks to cold water shock."
According to the Marine Board,16 people died in recreational boating incidents in 2022; 10 weren’t wearing a life jacket and nine were out alone.
Massey says the rising popularity of stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and other paddle-craft is having an impact, "We’ve seen an increase, along with the use, in paddlecraft fatalities. A lot of folks that are new to the activity are inexperienced, may not know how to prepare and the type of equipment that’s best to keep them safe, and they may go into areas that aren’t best for their skills." She adds, "The other trend that we’re starting to see is a lot of people going out there - not only with the inexperience, but they’re going by themselves. And so, the chances of something going wrong and not having anyone there to render aid, go up."
If you're headed out on the water, Massey encourages you to wear a life jacket, recreate with a friend or in a group and, if you have to call for help for someone else, get yourself out of the water first.
Many areas have life jacket loaner stations; click HERE for a list of locations. For more information about safe boating, visit Boat.Oregon.gov.