As warm weather blankets B.C. and more people are getting outside, the Lifesaving Society is reminding the public to be safe on the water.
Lenea Grace, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon branch, says there have been six drowning deaths in B.C. so far this year: one female and five males.
"We have seen drownings in boating accidents, as well as a few unfortunate situations where folks have been swept away in rivers or creeks, and we are seeing an older age demographic as well,” she says.
Those highest at risk of drowning are children under five and men between 18 and 49 years of age.
“Thankfully, we haven't had any drownings in B.C. for children under five, they have been in that older age category,” Grace said, adding at least two of the drowning deaths this year have been people in their 60s; three were on the ocean while the other three were in rivers or creeks.
For comparison, there were seven drownings this time last year.
"We are hoping to see a downtrend in drownings in 2023," said Grace, adding there were 26 in total across the province in 2023, the lowest recorded number in years.
To keep kids safe, Grace recommends families take swimming lessons.
“That [way], they engage in water safety education and that they keep their children within arm's reach.”
Newcomers to Canada should also consider swimming lessons as the culture and water safety education may be different.
“That's why it's really important for them to receive the same education,” she says.
Prepare for when on the water
Even if the air temperature is warm, it does not mean the ocean is, noted Grace. The water temperature is still quite cold, and hypothermia can creep in quickly.
“Even the strongest swimmers can experience cold water shock, and they can become incapacitated within minutes of immersion," she said.
With the start of summer just a few weeks away, the society is advocating for preparedness.
"I can't emphasize enough the need to wear a life jacket when boating. We recommend swimming in supervised areas,” Grace said.
If you're only on the water for a few hours, you should still make sure you have the proper equipment.
“It's really important that people prepare for their swimming and boating activities,” she says. "It’s important to swim [and] boat sober, for people to remember where their life jackets are and not take unnecessary risks that could lead to death.”
The May long weekend kicked off the boating season in B.C., and lifeguards at both Buntzen and Hayward lakes had to perform rescues on people who were paddle boarding and had been drinking.
“Thankfully, our team was able to rescue them, but it could have turned out a lot worse,” said Grace.