The two jet skiers at Wolf Creek Reservoir were pictures of health and perpetual energy.
Dayton Sibley, Union County’s marine patrol deputy, shows Georgia Larvik of La Grande how to best put on a life vest during the Ladd Marsh Youth Outdoor Day on Saturday. The Observer/DICK MASON
Moments later the teenagers were so exhausted they were almost helpless.
The jet skiers had fallen into Wolf Creek’s sub-60-degree water one day last month. The energy-draining chill of the cold water combined with fatigue from jet skiing left the young men too tired to swim back to their jet skis.The teenagers were fortunate, though — they were wearing life vests and the Union County marine patrol deputy had spotted them. The deputy, Dayton Sibley, drove his boat to the teenagers and had them climb up the ladder of his boat and warm up.
The teenagers had not been in immediate danger and had done nothing improper. Still, they served as a testament to the hazards of early summer reservoir water. Everybody is vulnerable and needs to be cautious.
Sibley made this point often during the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Ladd Marsh Youth Outdoor Day on Saturday. Sibley spoke of the jet skiers and much more during presentations.
He said people need to be particularly cautious in the spring and early summer when the water of this region’s lakes and reservoir is below 60 degrees.
“Oregon is a cold water state,’’ Sibley said.
The state has this designation because nine months out of the year the temperature of its lakes is in the 50-degree range or colder.
Northeast Oregon’s lakes and reservoirs are warming up rapidly, but people still need to take major precautions. Sibley explained that while surface temperatures are around 60 degrees, the water a foot or less below is much colder.
Anyone who falls into sub-60-degree water without a life vest is immediately at risk, regardless of their aquatic skills, the deputy said.
“I’m a strong swimmer, but if I fell in without a life preserver I would be in serious trouble,’’ Sibley said.
A major reason is that the shock of hitting cold water generates a “gasp reflex.’’ This causes people to breathe in water and begin choking, making them vulnerable to drowning if they are not wearing a life preserver.
Another point people need to remember is that keeping one’s head above the surface without a life preserver is exhausting.
“Most people cannot tread water for more than six minutes,’’ Sibley said.
Simply donning life jackets is not enough if people want to be prepared for water spills, Sibley said. Boaters, jet skiers and others need to make sure life vests are in good condition. Life vests that have been exposed to the elements are not nearly as effective.
“Sun and weather are hard on fabric,’’ Sibley said.
The quality of the life jacket one purchases is also important. Class 1 life vests are best since they will turn people who are unconscious over so that their face is out of the water. Class 2 life vests also do this but not as well, and most Class 3 life vests do not.
Life vest size also can be a critical point. Parents need to make sure that the life vests their children wear are not too big. Sibley said that children wearing life vests that are too large can get flipped over on to their face.
Whether one is wearing a life jacket or not, Sibley discourages people from jumping in in an attempt to rescue others.
“Fifty percent of drownings occur when someone is trying to save someone,’’ Sibley said.
One reason is that people drowning are panic-stricken and desperately trying to grasp on to something. Victims often push people under in the process.
It is best to throw cushions or rings with ropes attached to help someone struggling in the water, Sibley said. Oregon boaters are required by law to always carry throw cushions or rings on board.
People who have made it back to their boat are not out of the woods, Sibley said. They must be careful about how they climb back in.
“It is important to have a plan,’’ Sibley said.
The best plan calls for climbing back in from the bow. Climbing in from the side may capsize the boat. Entering from the engine side can cause injury.
Sibley is in his fourth year as the Union County marine patrol deputy. The sites he patrols include Pilcher Creek Reservoir, Wolf Creek Reservoir, Thief Valley Reservoir and Morgan Lake.
Sibley earlier served as the City of Elgin’s police chief for 19 years. He prefers his current job. The reason is that people who are out to enjoy the outdoors tend to be easier to work with.
“It is much more relaxing,’’ Sibley said. “People are more relaxed when they are out to have a good time.’’