Summer has started, and residents and visitors are taking to the province’s rivers and lakes, as well as the ocean, to cool down and relax. However, people need to be careful around water, and know what to do to keep themselves and others safe.
Statistics collected by the BC Coroners Service consistently show a spike in drowning deaths each summer, with the numbers beginning to increase in May, and continuing to rise through August. Data from 2016 show a total of 47 accidental drownings, with more than one-third of those deaths occurring in B.C.’s Southern Interior.
“All boaters and paddlers should wear a personal floatation device (PFD), not just have one in the boat with them,” says Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “Additionally, children, non-swimmers, and weak swimmers should wear a PFD anytime they’re in or near the water. People don’t realize how quickly they can get into trouble, particularly when they’re in unfamiliar waters.”
The BC Coroners Service emphasizes the need for visitors from other countries, or even other regions of Canada, to understand the dangers that may lurk in or near B.C.’s lakes and rivers. These include sudden drop-offs into deep water, unexpectedly cold water temperatures, unexpected underwater obstacles, and unstable or slippery rock edges above cliffs and waterfalls. Waters in B.C. are frequently much colder than in other countries or provinces. If you are hosting someone from out of town, be sure to warn them of these potential hazards.
“This is the time of year when we see too many carefree days on the water turn to tragedy due to alcohol, poor judgment, or a momentary lapse in supervision of children,” says Dale Miller, executive director, Lifesaving Society — BC & Yukon Branch. “Although figures are improving, we are working toward a province that is free from drowning.”
In any small craft, wear a properly fitted personal flotation device (PFD) at all times when on the water. Having one in the boat is not sufficient, as in as many as 70 per cent of boating incidents, the person becomes separated from the boat. Children, non-swimmers, and weak swimmers should also wear a PFD when wading or playing in the water at a river or lakeside.
Do not mix alcohol with boating, swimming, or other recreational water activities. A study published in the journal Injury Prevention suggests that someone with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 has about 10 times the risk of drowning during boating as someone with none, and even a small amount of alcohol can increase the risk as a result of impaired co-ordination and judgment.
Impairment is illegal for someone driving a boat, and is also a risk for passengers, who are more likely to fall into the water. Impairment by alcohol or drugs is often a contributing factor in cases in which someone has accidentally fallen into the water from the shore or a dock or wharf.
Be aware of the water conditions where you are planning your activities. Check the weather forecast before heading out, and do a visual inspection of the area. Do not head down a river without being aware of the water conditions further downstream. If there are warning signs posted, obey them.
Always supervise children anywhere near water. Pre-school-aged children can drown in only a few centimetres of water, and drowning is often silent. Young children should be within arm’s reach of a responsible adult. Swim lessons do not replace the need to supervise children around water.
Never dive into unknown waters. Unexpectedly shallow water, or hidden obstacles, can easily prove fatal. Diving from cliffs or from other great heights is exceptionally risky.
Never swim alone. Always have a buddy, and keep an eye out for each other.