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Washington’s legal limbo on life jacket requirements

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MAPLE VALLEY, Wash. – Many of us will likely head to our region’s lakes and rivers to keep cool this holiday weekend.

First responders tell Q13 News the water’s temperatures across our region are still cold enough to be dangerous for you and your family.

But do you have to wear a life jacket?

It turns out the laws are not so cut and dry and at least one first responder thinks they should be required whatever kind of vessel you use.

And they reminded the public that the best way to stay safe on the water is with a life jacket, even if it’s not required.

A new loaner life jacket program at Lake Wilderness Park aims to keep your kids safe on the water.

Thanks to several public and private organizations, a rack of loaner life jackets are available for anybody who wants one – all for free.

“If we could keep one person from drowning, we wanted to make sure we provided that,” said Tyerman.

Washington State Parks also sponsor similar programs across the state.

“There is no better thing you can do than wear a life jacket,” said the state parks' Wade Alonzo. “Some research suggests a major percentage of fatalities over the course of many years would have been prevented.”

But the only time a life jacket makes a difference is when you wear it, said officials.

Sgt. Kim Chandler with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife believes a new life-jacket-for-all law could save lives.

“The personal flotation device law that’s currently on the books is in my belief, flawed,” he said.

Anyone under 12-years-old and on a boat legally must wear a personal flotation device. Those over 13 must have a life jacket readily available at all times on a boat.

But for people floating on inner tubes, sail boards, small rafts and other devices, a life jacket isn’t required by law.

“It makes no sense to me why a guy on a Mickey Mouse floaty toy doesn’t need a PDF,” said Chandler.

But for first responders, convincing everyone to wear a life jacket is always a challenge this time of year.

And if the laws were changed some swimmers aren’t convinced everyone would play along.

“I’ve been floating this river for years and I haven’t had any issues with me and my friends personally as long as we’re being responsible,” said Brooke Dodd.

“If something does go wrong I feel there’s enough people there’s not going to be any issues,” said Mark Abrahamsen.

The loaner life jacket program Lake Wilderness Park began Friday and two more kiosks are scheduled in the future.

Local fire departments believe if the program saves just one life it will be considered a success.