Spending time at the lake is a summer staple for many Albertans, but heading out onto the water can be dangerous if you’re not prepared.
The Lifesaving Society said there were 28 drowning deaths in Alberta in 2014 and 15 drowning deaths in 2015.
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When it comes to who’s drowning, the CEO of the Alberta and Northwest Territories branch of the Lifesaving Society said the most recent statistics show men between the ages of 18 and 29, and 54 and 65 are the most at-risk of drowning.
“Your young males are those risk-takers and they think that it can’t happen to them and it won’t happen to them,” Barbara Costache explained.
“Your 54-to-65-year-olds are those baby boomers. So the trends over the last few years are showing us that that’s an increased target that’s drowning and that’s because they’re still recreating and doing what they were doing with the same level of risk and behaviour that they did when they were younger.”
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The Canadian Safe Boating Council (CSBC) offers the following five tips for anyone heading out onto the water.
Wear a life-jacket
Legally, there must be one life-jacket or personal flotation device on board for each person. The director of the CSBC urges people to wear their life-jackets.
“Often times they’re on the boat,” Ian Gilson said. “The problem is if they happen to get tossed overboard, and that can happen.
“Eighty per cent of boating-related fatalities, statistically, involve people who haven’t been wearing their life-jackets. It’s so preventable, which is the real tragedy about that.”
The CSBC conducted a study that found the number one reason people don’t wear life-jackets is because they said they can swim. But Gilson said it doesn’t take much for a person to be unexpectedly tossed overboard.
“I could be out fishing, looking at my rod and I don’t see a cruiser wave coming at me from behind. All of a sudden I get tossed out of the boat along with it and the current keeps on taking the boat further and further away from me, and it turns out that I can never catch up to it and as a result I perish.”
“The bottom line is, life-jackets save lives and you don’t have time to put them on when a boat capsizes or an incident occurs,” Barbara Costache, CEO of the Alberta, NWT chapter of the Lifesaving Society, said.
Watch below: Required safety equipment for power boats
Don’t drink and boat
Impaired driving is not only a concern on the road, but on the water too. The CSBC said 40 per cent of boating-related fatalities involve alcohol.
“Wait until you get back to the pier to have that beer,” the CSBC said.
Take a boating course
Just as drivers must know the rules of the road, boaters must know the rules of the waterways. Boating safety courses can help make you more aware of safe boating practices, prevention measures and ways to reduce risks on the water.
Watch below: Power boat rules of the road
For a list of accredited boating safety courses, visit Transport Canada’s website.
The CSBC urges people to make sure the boat has all the required safety gear on board and plenty of fuel before heading out on the water. It’s also important to make sure the weather conditions are safe for the vessel you’re taking out.
Gilson encourages people to be safe and not take unnecessary risks.
“When you’re out there, don’t take silly risks,” he said. “One risk that I particularly find people take, even as they’re going along very slowly, is they’ll let their children sit on the bow of the boat with their legs hanging over. One brief moment of inattention can cause that child to slip into the water and I don’t care how slowly you’re going, it really, really is near impossible to stop in time and you’d never, ever forgive yourself.”
Beware of cold water risks
While it may be hot outside, the water can still be frigid, which presents a significant risk if someone falls in.
“Even at this time of the year, the lakes can be very, very cold. So hypothermia is a real consideration,” Gilson said.
If you end up in the water, it’s recommended you do everything you can to save your energy and keep your body warm. You may survive longer in cold water if you:
Wear a life-jacket or PFD so that you will not lose valuable energy trying to keep your head above waterClimb onto a nearby floating object to get as much of your body out of or above the water as possibleCross your arms tightly against your chest and draw your knees up close to them to help you keep your body heatHuddle with others with chests close together, arms around mid to lower back, and legs intertwined
For more information on boater and water safety, visit the Lifesaving Society’s, CSBC’s or Transport Canada’s website.
Lifesaving Society’s 2016 Alberta drowning report