Wear your life jacket when paddleboarding in Lake Forest Park

Saturday, July 17, 2021

The 'paddleboarder' pictured here is a KCSO MRU deputy who agreed to 'take the plunge' during a recent multi-city water rescue training exercise on Lake Washington.

 By Tracy Furutani

Education, not enforcement, will be the emphasis of implementing the recent Lake Forest Park ordinance that mandates the wearing of personal flotation devices (PFD) while using human-powered watercraft, such as paddleboards.

The law was passed at the May 13, 2021 City Council meeting, and went into effect later that month.

“We’re not arresting anybody,” said Lake Forest Park Police Chief Mike Harden. 

He noted that his department was still considering options on the law’s enforcement, noting that the LFP Police Department does not have a boat or a Jet-Ski. 

State law currently requires that people using human-powered watercraft carry PFDs but does not require wearing them.

“We don’t have a mechanism to get out in the water,” said Lt. Rhonda Lehman of the LFPPD, thus the department’s officers will be using social media and city council meetings to get information about the law to the public. 

She referred to the Wear It Washington safety campaign as a source of good information on safety on the water.

The idea behind this ordinance was being discussed before the pandemic, according to Tom French, the LFP City Councilmember who sponsored the legislation. 

“In 2011, there was a heat wave that resulted in record [lake] fatalities that spring,” he said, which resulted in the King County Council passing a temporary requirement for wearing PFDs while on the water. 
“First responders were getting hurt [during water rescues],” said French. Additionally, as noted in the preamble to the ordinance, “there were 53 boating fatalities in Washington in 2020, 24 of which involved paddle craft.”

Lake Forest Park contracts with the King County Sheriff’s Office Marine Rescue Dive unit to patrol the Lake Washington waters along the city’s shore. 

“We’ve had a ton more [calls for service],” said Deputy Kyle Broderson. 

He noted that there were only four deputies assigned to the unit, with two assigned to Lake Washington and two to Lake Sammamish. He said that therefore response times to incidents could be upwards of an hour, so requiring the wearing of PFDs could increase water safety.

The Northshore Fire Department, which serves LFP, is supportive of the new measure. 

“Nothing is changing,” said Deputy Chief of Operations Doug McDonald. “All our firefighters maintain [and wear] PFDs operating around the water.”

The department is ordering an inflatable to assist in rescue operations. In addition, there are nine staff members who are certified rescue swimmers.

Other cities acknowledge that water safety is a concern but are using different strategies. 

“I support this [ordinance],” said Nigel Herbig, the deputy mayor and a city council member of Kenmore, but “a regional approach is better.” A rule crafted by the King County Public Health Department could make the rules about wearing PFDs more uniform across the county, he said.

The City of Bothell’s authorized kayak and paddleboard concessionaire, Bothell Kayak, requires its clients to wear PFDs when on the water in their equipment.

LFP Councilmember French agrees. “My fervent hope is that we see a regional response to this,” he said. “It’s a public health consideration.”


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