With the first summer long weekend approaching, the BC Coroners Service is urging residents and visitors to take extra care if they’re headed out on the water, boating or swimming.
A just-released Coroners Service Report shows that in 2015, 70 people drowned accidentally in British Columbia. That’s up from the 64 who drowned the year before, although overall, the rate of drowning has decreased since 2008.
“One of the most important things we can stress is the danger of mixing alcohol or drugs with any water-based activity,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said.
Of the 535 drowning deaths that occurred from 2008 through 2014, the use of alcohol and/or drugs was a contributing factor in fully 40%.
A similar finding came from a Child Death Review Panel on child and youth drowning in 2013. Of the 24 youth aged 15 to 18 who had drowned, 38% had consumed alcohol or drugs beforehand.
The BC Coroners Service fully supports the recently announced campaign by BC Liquor Stores, the Community Against Preventable Injuries and Vancouver Police to stress the dangers of mixing alcohol with boating.
Coroner’s statistics consistently show a spike in drowning deaths each summer, with the numbers beginning to increase in May and continuing to rise through August.
The majority of deaths occur in lakes and rivers, with boating incidents accounting for the largest number of fatalities.
While boating and swimming are the highest-risk water activities, even those walking along waterside trails or cliffs should take care. About one-sixth of those who drown fell into the water from shore.
Water Safety Tips:
- 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, in as many as 70% of boating incidents, the person becomes separated from the boat. Aside from swimmers, almost no one who drowns expected to end up in the water at all, emphasizing the need for the PFD to be worn.
- 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, and that even a small amount of alcohol can increase the risk. Alcohol impairs co-ordination and judgment, and this substantially adds to the risk inherent in swimming or boating. 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 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 you are hosting visitors from another province or country, ensure that they are informed about the conditions that prevail in the lake or river you are visiting. 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 the drowning is often silent. Young children should be within arm’s length of a responsible adult. Swim lessons do not replace the need to supervise young children around the water.
- 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 an exceptionally high-risk activity.