Now that summer is officially here and locals and visitors to British Columbia are frequenting lakes, rivers and the ocean, residents and visitors are urged to take extra care when they spend time near water.
Although the latest available preliminary data from 2016 shows a decline in the number of unintentional drownings, the BC Coroners Service is already investigating a number of drowning incidents this year that occurred in B.C. waterways. Statistics collected by the BC Coroners Service consistently show a spike in drowning deaths each summer, with the numbers beginning to increase late in May and continuing to rise through until early September.
The BC Coroners Service emphasizes the need for visitors from other countries, or even other regions, 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 also frequently much colder than in other countries or provinces. People hosting someone from out of town are asked to warn them of these potential hazards.
Data from 2016 showed a total of 47 drownings, the lowest number in the past decade, down from 80 in 2015. More than one-third of those deaths occurred in the southern Interior region of B.C. The latest Coroners Report on accidental drownings can be found under Recreational Activities.
- Almost two-thirds of the deaths occur between May and September each year.
- Three in every four deaths involve a male and people aged 20-34 account for 26% of water-related deaths.
- More than one-third of the deaths occur in lakes or ponds.
Safety tips and guidelines
- In any small craft, wear a properly-fitted personal floatation device (PFD) at all times when on the water. Having one in the boat is not sufficient as immersions from boats are typically unintentional and in as many as 70% 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 Injury Prevention journal suggests that someone with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 has about 10 times the risk of drowning during boating and that 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, but it is also a risk for passengers who are more likely to fall into the water. Impairment by alcohol or drugs is also often a contributing factor in cases in which someone has accidentally fallen into water from shore.
- Be aware of the water conditions where activities are being planned. Check the weather forecast before heading out and also 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.
- If hosting visitors from another province or country, ensure that they are informed about the conditions that prevail in the lake or river being visited. Warn them about steep drop-offs, rapids, currents, cold water and any other hazards.
- 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. Swimming ability does not replace the need to supervise children around the water as their decision-making skills are still in development.
- Never dive into unknown waters. Unexpectedly shallow water or hidden obstacles underwater 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.
- For further information about water safety tips, visit the following sites:
- Canadian Red Cross: http://www.redcross.ca/training-and-certification/swimming-and-water-safety-tips-and-resources/swimming–boating-and-water-safety-tips
- The Lifesaving Society: http://www.lifesaving.bc.ca/boating-safety-tips-33-languages
- Drowning stats infographic from Lifesaving Society: https://www.lifesaving.bc.ca/drowning-stats
- National Drowning Prevention Week (July 21-27, 2019): https://www.lifesaving.bc.ca/drowning-preventable