How to protect yourself if you fall into cold water

SPOKANE, Wash. - While temperatures are getting warmer, the water in local rivers and lakes is still near freezing and if you accidentally fall in, that can mean serious trouble.

This is the time of year when people start to head back on to the Spokane River, they start to recreate. However, the water is below 50 degrees which is still awfully chilly.

That is why several folks, authorities included, want to make sure you know what to do if you accidentally fall in.

As the sun comes out, so to do the paddles and thousands of people anxious to hit the water. While spring is in the air, it still feels like winter is in the water. And if you fall in unexpectedly, it can spell trouble.

According to Washington State Parks, 9 people have died statewide after drowning in cold water already this year. In the event that you do accidentally fall in, keep calm.

"The key is not to panic. Your mind knows what to do, but your body is telling you something different," said Rene Wiley with Avista Utilities.

Controlling your breathing is key, too. You have about one minute to maintain a steady breathing pattern before things get out of hand.

"Then the effects of hypothermia are going to set in and you're going to lose the dexterity in your limbs, your arms and your feet," said Deputy Jim Ebel with the Spokane County Sheriff's Office Marine Enforcement.

After that, keep moving. Try to make it to shore. If not, keep your feet downstream, and steer clear of any trees or branches in the water.

And as always, remember to wear a life jacket when out on the water.

Life jackets are required on most parts of the river in Spokane County and not wearing one could result in roughly a $75 fine.


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