County reports a ‘concerning number’ of drownings already in 2023

At least 12 people have drowned in rivers, lakes, and Puget Sound waters this year.

After a “concerning number” of drownings and close calls this spring, King County officials are urging the public to take caution this summer when recreating and swimming in rivers, lakes and Puget Sound waters.

Drowning is reportedly the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4 in King County. Last year, 29 people drowned from preventable situations in King County, nearly twice the number of drownings that occurred in 2018.

“Our rivers and lakes feel like a treat on hot summer days, but people have to understand just how dangerous the water is. Shallow water seems warm, but moving or deep water is very cold,” said Christie True, director of King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.

County officials say Black residents in King County – who often have less access to pools and swimming lessons – are two-and-a-half times more likely to drown than white residents. Recent immigrants and people who are unfamiliar with the region’s colder, swifter waters are also reportedly at greater risk due to language and cultural barriers, according to the county.

The nationwide shortage of lifeguards has also been attributed to increased risks at local lakes. Officials say rivers are particularly dangerous this time of year because people are looking for ways to cool off, but the water in rivers can still be extremely cold, which can cause even strong swimmers to quickly lose stamina and experience hypothermia.

“We want people to enjoy spending time along our waterways this summer, but they have to be smart about it,” said King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall. “The Sheriff’s Office has well-trained rescue crews, but the sheer size of King County makes it difficult to get to some of these remote locations when someone in the water is in trouble.”

Experts at the King County Sheriff’s Office, Public Health – Seattle & King County, and the Department of Natural Resources and Parks shared these potentially life-saving tips for anyone considering going into lakes and rivers this summer:

• Wear a life jacket

• Don’t consume alcohol or drugs while swimming or recreating in the water

• When children are swimming, designate an adult to watch and stay nearby and supervise

• Always tell someone where you plan to enter and exit a river before you leave home

• Sometimes the best decision is to not enter the water if conditions appear riskier than you expected