This summer, emergency crews will be called to dozens of drowning incidents at lakes, rivers and beaches around the province.
And after a drowning incident at Thetis Lake earlier the month, caution around water is – or should be – top of mind for many heading into the long weekends of the summer, says Dale Miller, executive director for the BC and Yukon branch of the Lifesaving Society.
The most recent data available for B.C. reveals 79 water-related fatalities recorded in B.C. in 2015, and 60 in 2016.
“The biggest myth probably is, ‘It wont happen to me,’” said Miller. “Everybody goes out expecting good weather and sunny skies, clear water, calm water… and unfortunately things can go wrong quite quickly and unexpectedly.”
And in the summertime, things go wrong pretty frequently – 64 per cent of drownings occur between May and September, and 35 per cent of them happen in lakes or ponds.
“Thetis Lake has some dropoffs people should know about it,” Miller said. “It gets deep quite quickly, and that’s a risk, especially if someone is not a competent swimmer.”
While 26 per cent of B.C. drowning incidents happen during aquatic activities like swimming, even more – 33 per cent – happen while people are boating, specifically on powerboats. Of the boating-related drowning incidents in B.C. each year, 58 per cent of victims were on a powerboat.
Data also suggests that young males are the most vulnerable: 77 per cent of drowning victims are male, and 26 per cent of drowning victims are between 20 and 34 years old.
“Definitely avoid mixing alcohol with swimming or boating,” said Miller.
“Drinking throws off your judgment,” he added. “Combine that young male bravado with a bit of alcohol…that’s why we see that young males are the most susceptible to drowning.”
Miller is quick to point out that even the most experienced swimmers can, and do, drown.
“Once they get out into a lake or open water it’s quite different. There are a lot of risk factors that could take a good swimmer down to a struggling swimmer,” Miller said. “Sometimes it’s just overreaching their limits – swimming farther than they are able to, or maybe they didn’t expect the cold water.
“Cold water can also create cramps, and even an excellent swimmer, if their legs cramp up, it’s very hard to keep their head above water,” he added.
Miller also explained the “panic effect” brought on by cold water. “If people are thrown into the water suddenly, there’s that gasp reflex, and if the gasp is taken underwater that drowning process can start very quickly,” he said.
But not all heed the organization’s life saving advice: wear a life-jacket, take swimming lessons and avoid consuming alcohol on or near the water.
And accidents are still possible for those who do take precautions.
When things go wrong, Miller said jumping in the water to save a drowning person should be a last resort. Instead, he emphasizes the “reach, throw, row, go” rule.
Option one is to reach with a life-jacket, branch, pool noodle or whatever is available. The next option is throwing something to help them float – a life ring, a Styrofoam cooler, anything that will give them the ability to keep their head above water. “Rowing” to the drowning person is the next option – using some sort of boat or vessel to reach them.
Finally, “going” to them is the last resort – but if you choose to go, ensure you have a flotation device with you, to avoid being pushed below the surface during the rescue.
“Sometimes the person who goes in becomes the victim,” Miller said.