Opinion: Caution on the water

The drowning death of a woman in Harrison Lake last Friday and the death of a man Tuesday offer a reminder of the need for caution on water.

The drowning death of a young woman in Harrison Lake last Friday and the death of a young man in the same lake on Tuesday offer a sad reminder of the need for caution on the water.

The incidents follow the deaths of two men earlier in the year – a tragedy that has prompted the family to release a poignant video calling for more signage and better awareness of the dangers of Harrison Lake.

Details of the two most recent incidents are still scarce. However, they  reflect a familiar theme: an underestimation of the perils of such a large body of water. The currents are strong, the water is cold and the wind and waves can turn a simple swim into nightmare.

But there’s more, as B.C.’s grim record shows.

Hundreds of people drown in Canada each year, and here in B.C. our lakes and rivers have claimed far too many of those lives.

Hot and dry 2013 was a particularly bad year in this province, with more than 40 drowning deaths recorded by mid-July. But with temperatures climbing again in what has already been a summer for the record books, there is a very real possibility that we’ll see a return to those numbers.

The British Columbia Drowning Report 2015 edition – a compilation of stats from 2008 to 2012 – lays out the five Ws of drowning deaths in the province over that five-year period. Its findings are unsurprising.

It tells us July and August are the most dangerous months and that the Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley sees the most drowning deaths of any region in the province. The report also notes that eight out of 10 drowning victims are male; most people who drown in B.C. die in a river, stream or lake; and that age 20-24 is the riskiest time of life.

But it’s the ‘Whys’ that should really make us sit up and take notice.

Between the ages of 20 and 34, the most likely cause of drowning is alcohol consumption (48 per cent) followed by not wearing a life jacket when relevant (40 per cent). What these elements all have in common, of course, is that they are choices those swimmers and boaters made.

When it comes to safety on the water, of course, enforcement is crucial. But it’s also important to acknowledge the role we play in our own safety, and the safety of those who are enjoying the water with us.