Now that summer is officially here and locals and visitors to British Columbia are frequenting lakes, rivers and the ocean, the BC Coroners Service, Lifesaving Society of BC and Yukon and the Canadian Red Cross are urging residents and visitors 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.
“Tragically, most of the drowning deaths that occur in B.C. happen during the summer months when people are enjoying recreational time boating or swimming at our beautiful lakes, rivers and oceanfront beaches,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner. “Many of these deaths could have been prevented had a personal floatation device been worn. We also find that a significant number of those who die were under the influence of alcohol or other impairing substances at the time of death. This is a reminder to everyone who will be on or near the water this summer to exercise care and good judgement — nobody expects to get into trouble while boating or swimming, but a few moments to consider the risks and plan accordingly can prevent tragic outcomes.”
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.
“While it’s encouraging to see a decline in the number of drownings in B.C., we continue to see the same trends year to year,” said Dale Miller, executive director, Lifesaving Society. “Nearly half of drowning victims are males in the 20 to 34 year-old and 65 plus year-old categories. Those close to these men need to emphasize the importance of not taking risks around water and wearing a lifejacket when boating.”
Shelley Dalke, director of swimming and water safety, Canadian Red Cross, said, “There are several things people can do to increase safety around the water this summer. Examples include making (and sharing) a plan for safety before every outing, ensuring barriers are in place to prevent unintended access to water for toddlers, and supervising all participants in pool/open water activities vigilantly. Additional training such as swimming lessons, learning how to perform safe rescues and first aid are important skills to have as well. Many tragic water-related fatalities, however, can be prevented by wearing a lifejacket. If people go boating, or if they have limited or no swimming abilities but are playing near or in water, they must wear a lifejacket.”
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 at: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/life-events/death/coroners-service/statistical-reports
For further information about water safety tips, visit the following sites:
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
A backgrounder follows.