Saanichton teen honoured for saving granddad’s life

Gavin England of Saanichton was one of 26 recipients of bravery awards.

Saanichton resident Gavin England

Gavin England of Saanichton was one of 26 recipients of bravery awards at the Lifesaving Society’s 103rd Annual Honour and Rescue Award Ceremony on March 28 in Vancouver.

Gavin, 13, is in Grade 8 at Bayside Middle School. Last year his efforts saved his and his grandfather’s life after they were forced to abandon their boat in the Saanich Inlet.

“Gavin’s dad and I are proud of him, of course, especially in his ability to improvise, persevere and think clearly under those stressful conditions,” said Gavin’s mom Gillian.

“We’ve gone boating since then. Hopefully Gavin will not experience anything as extreme as this again, but at least he has shown that when the chips are down he is able to take care of himself.”

Gavin was on the water in Finlayson Arm in June of 2014 with his grandfather Vern, in an 18-foot boat Vern had restored. The two were prawning 300 metres off shore near Goldstream Park when the boat took on more water than its already-stressed bilge pump could handle, and the bilge stopped functioning.

“The next thing you know, I looked back and the boat was half full of water,” Vern said.

As he watched the water level rise, Vern knew the situation was going to rapidly get worse.

“Grandpa, we’ve got to get out of the boat,” Gavin said.

Wearing lifejackets, they entered the water and were able to remain afloat. Vern didn’t have the strength to swim and Gavin towed him while assuring him not to panic.

“I kept telling him that we would be fine and we were almost there,” Gavin said.

They lost their shoes during the swim but reached shore, though they found themselves in a remote area with no help in sight.

After navigating the rocky shoreline, Gavin walked some distance to find a house while Vern warmed up and regained his strength on the beach. They had seen a cabin earlier from the water so Gavin headed in that direction.

After nearly two hours, he came upon an empty house and an old truck with keys in it. After several unsuccessful attempts, Gavin was able to start the truck. He had never driven a stick shift but had ridden a dirt bike, so knew about clutches and shifting gears.

He drove the truck up the steep driveway to find help. He made it to the Malahat  where he waved down a motorist to get help.

“I knew I was all right, but I was more concerned about Grandpa than myself.”

Vern eventually made it to the abandoned house as Gavin was coming back down the hill with RCMP officers who had been called by observers.

“I think (Gavin’s) a hero, I really do. He had such tenacity to just get up and find help. I’m so proud of that little guy, he’s an incredible boy,” Vern said.

“I still go boating,” Gavin said. “I wasn’t really responsible for preparing the boat, but my dad is pretty particular about boating safety and having our own boat properly equipped. If something unexpected happens try not to panic — and wear your lifejacket at all times.”

Each year the Honour and Rescue Award ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate the heroism and bravery of aquatic rescuers in B.C.

Lifesaving Society is a not-for-profit organization whose mandate is to reduce water-related death and injury.