August 04, 2016 - 8:00 PM
THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Cooler weather this summer may have dampened a few vacation plans, but it appears to have had a silver lining; drowning deaths across the province are the lowest they've been in seven years.
To date, the Lifesaving Society of B.C. and the Yukon has recorded 28 water-related deaths. By this time in 2015, there were already 36 drownings. Numbers haven't been this low since 2009, when there were 25 deaths. Between 2010 and 2015, the average number of deaths annually was about 50.
A big factor in the dip likely has to do with fewer people spending time on lakes and beaches this year, Lifesaving Society spokesperson Dale Miller says.
“I think a big part of it is the weather has not been as nice as last year,” Miller says. “It’s a double-edged sword; we want good weather, but it also helps to keep drownings down.”
Like the rest of the province, the Thompson-Okanagan has seen fewer drowning deaths compared to years past. So far this year, two people died in Okanagan Lake; a 40-year-old West Kelowna man who dive into the water in March and did not resurface, followed by a 56-year-old woman who drowned after her canoe capsized. Skaha Lake has also claimed two lives, including a 33-year-old Stand-Up Paddle Boarder from Romania and a 69-year-old Edmonton man vacationing in Penticton.
In 2014, by comparison, there were seven drownings by July, and in 2013, Okanagan Lake alone claimed four lives.
The Lifesaving Society stresses that anyone can fall victim to drowning, but says eight times out of ten, the fatalities are men between the ages of 20 to 34.
“We’re also seeing an increase in the 50 to 64 age group,” Miller says. “Those are your fishermen out without a lifejacket.”
He also points to the death of a 56-year-old woman canoeing without a lifejacket in Okanagan Lake.
“As we’ve said before, be prepared,” Miller says.
While weather is one clear factor in this year’s drop in drowning deaths, education and quick-thinking bystanders also deserve some credit.
“We’ve had a number of positive stories this year and that’s because of people knowing what to do,” Miller says.
In June, a Kamloops man used his turban to save a girl calling for help in the North Thompson River.
Miller says it’s important not to put yourself in danger while rescuing a drowning victim, so using an object you can throw out to the victim is the best choice. For that very reason, the Lifesaving Society is promoting the installation of life rings on unsupervised beaches.
He says some municipalities and regional districts have already purchased the $1,200 life rings.
“Some are placed in memory of those who have drowned,” Miller says.
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