Paddleboard deaths increase; life jackets required for users

SEATTLE (AP) — Drowning by people using stand-up paddleboards has increased and authorities say it's because the victims did not use a life jacket.

The U.S. Coast Guard recorded 11 total paddleboard fatalities in the nation in 2017 but three already this year in western Washington, the Seattle Times reported . All three involved people who drowned while not wearing a life vest.

Jim Emmons, outreach director for the Water Sports Foundation, based in Orlando, Florida, said people buy paddleboards and do not realize the risks.

"People come into the big box stores, the club stores like Costco, in what we call a 'no service environment,'" he said. "They've got a party next weekend, they don't know anything about boating, don't know anything about paddling."

At such stores, there likely will not be signs warning customers that the Coast Guard requires paddleboard users to carry a life jacket. Emmons said he's sending letters to executives of major chain stores asking them to put up some kind of warning.

"It could something as simple as putting on the bottom of the receipt about using a life jacket," he said.

Modern stand-up paddleboarding traces its origins to Hawaii. By 2015, just under 3 million people had tried paddleboards, according to Small Craft Advisory, a website for boating law administrators.

The Coast Guard classified paddleboards as vessels in 2008. The agency required users to wear a life jacket or attach it to the board. Paddleboarders younger than 13 must wear the life jacket.

"People are shocked that it's a requirement," said Sgt. Kevin Haistings of the Seattle Police Department Harbor Patrol. "They think that the paddleboards are toys. We do the education."

Not wearing a life jacket, or believing you can quickly put it on, is taking a chance, he said. Users could die if they hit their head and lose consciousness, experience cold water shock or panic, he said.

A 2014 study by the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said many adults reject life jackets. They call them uncomfortable, consider themselves expert swimmers or make poor choices because of alcohol.

Not wearing a life jacket on a paddleboard can result in an $87 fine.