Lifejacket and luck: teen kayaker rescued from the icy waters of Lake Washington

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Photo by Rhys Moult on Unsplash

By Diane Hettrick

A middle school student was kayaking with a club on Lake Washington April 11, 2022 when his racing kayak got caught in fishing nets close to shore and flipped over, tipping him into the water. 

His life jacket kept him afloat but he was unable to get back on his overturned boat, still tangled in nets.

After 90 seconds in the cold waters of Lake Washington he was unable to focus or swim without extreme difficulty. 

Fortunately for him, the lakeside property owner saw he was in difficulty and ran down to the dock where he talked the boy in close enough to reach him. He fished the teen out of the water within two minutes but already the boy could not use his hands or think clearly.

The Lake Forest Park resident who saved the teen from the water was Deputy Mayor Tom French.

I suppose there is a certain irony to the fact that he was rescued by the policy maker who sponsored the life jacket ordinance in LFP, but I for one am deeply grateful that he was wearing his life jacket and that I was nearby.

There are many "what ifs" in this story but for French, the biggest one is: what if the young man had not been wearing a life jacket?

I have no doubt that in another minute he would have succumbed to hypothermia and fallen unconscious. 

French says "The waters in our community are in the mid to low 40s and are very, very cold. Wearing a life jacket is just one way to keep yourself and ones that you love safer. The dangers of hypothermia upon immersion are very real."

As of May of 2021, the LFP Municipal Code Ordinance 1222 that French helped create requires wearing of a Coast Guard approved life jacket (personal floatation device or PFD).

While state law requires that a Coast Guard approved PFD be on board a paddleboard or kayak, LFP Municipal Code requires the actual wearing of a Coast Guard approved life jacket (personal floatation device or PFD). It cannot simply be on board the human-powered craft or paddleboard- it must be worn properly.

Tom's message to residents: Wear your lifejacket while enjoying our waters.

When I sponsored this Ordinance last year, it was with these first time or more casual users of human-powered watercraft that I had primarily in mind. I hope it will help contribute to their awareness of the dangers of the water, particularly in the spring and early summer when the water is so cold.

Importantly, this is not like a helmet law- if someone chooses not to wear a helmet (they should wear one as required by our law), they are not placing a first responder in danger. Failing to wear a PDF can place a first responder's life in jeopardy out on the water.

National Safe Boating Week is May 21-27, 2022 and is a perfect time to begin the process of ensuring everyone who wants to access the water this season is safe and educated.


Anonymous,  April 30, 2022 at 2:06 PM  

Common sense laws like this should never be a debate.

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