B.C. SEEING 47 PER CENT INCREASE OVER THIS TIME LAST YEAR
THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Drownings across the province are up significantly this year over last year and the Thompson-Okanagan has been no different.
At least ten people have drowned in the Thompson-Okanagan this year, contributing to the 44 drownings province-wide. By this date last year, that number was just 30.
Dale Miller, executive director of the Lifesaving Society of B.C. and the Yukon says 2013 drownings are significantly higher than they were at the same time last year across the province. As always, the heat waves of July have paralleled with an annual spike in drownings.
"We've seen a rash of drownings in the past ten days, but there was that rash last year too," Miller says. "It's not unlike the forest fire danger rating going up. With the hot weather, people are looking to keep cool and water-related activities go up."
Of the 44 drowning victims in B.C. so far this year, 40, or 93 per cent, were men, while 37 per cent were aged 18-24. That's compared to 2012 statistics for the same time period, when 70 per cent of victims were men and 13 per cent aged 18-24.
"It's a tough category to make a dent in," Miller says. "When you put those statistics together, it seems there's a higher level of risk-taking going on."
While the number of total drownings are the highest they've been in the past few years, Miller says there's been a more general downhill trend through history. In 1994, there were 155 drownings in B.C., a number the Lifesaving Society and local policing authorities have worked hard to bring down.
"Obviously, 44 drownings is still too many," Miller says.
North Okanagan RCMP were proud to report not a single drowning last summer, something accomplished in part with increased boat patrols and educational campaigns.
"Safety is paramount on the water," RCMP spokesperson Gord Molendyk says. "Last year we aimed to have no drownings on our waters, and we managed that."
He believes most accidents could be prevented by following the rules of the water, rules which were often made in the wake of tragedies.
"The (majority) of accidental drownings, with some safety precautions, could have been prevented," Molendyk says. "Tragedies do happen, but we can reduce them."
With Kalamalka and Okanagan lakes so popular with tourists and locals alike, boat traffic can get pretty busy. It's important to stay alert, sober and equipped with safety gear, including proper fitting life-jackets, at all times, Molendyk says.
"We want people to enjoy our lakes, but we also want them to go home at the end of the day," Molendyk says.
And it's not just young people they have their eye on. Recently, a boat filled with seniors was turned back to shore because of old and ill-fitting life-jackets.
"It's not about age, it's about safety," he says.
Vernon Search and Rescue manager Leigh Pearson agrees. So far, North Okanagan and Shuswap deaths haven't fallen into the category of young males. Two fishermen in their 50s fell victim to a storm in Kalamalka Lake earlier this year, as did a lone fisherman from Calgary boating on Shuswap Lake. A 42-year-old Yukon man drowned trying to rescue his children in Wood Lake. A Keremeos man died while fishing north of Hedley just last Saturday, while a second man, also from Keremeos drowned while rafting down the Similkameen River. A Cache Creek man drowned earlier this month in Seton Lake. Two Langley teens boating in Nicola Lake also drowned this year. The most recent drowning was that of a Peachland man in Okanagan Lake.
Sometimes, drowning is an accident, plain and simple, with nothing much to be done.
"It can happen in a heartbeat," Pearson, who has rescued many people from North Okanagan lakes and searched for the bodies of others, says. "I don't think people don't give water enough respect."
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