With the tragic drowning death of a young Langley woman in Harrison Lake on Friday and a frightening near-miss on the Bedford Channel in Fort Langley on the B.C. Day long weekend, the subject of water safety is once again top of mind.
Few details are yet available about the circumstances surrounding the young woman’s death, but we do know that earlier in the week, five teens were reportedly swamped by the wake of a speeding boat as they swam in the narrow arm of the Fraser River. Happily, they were saved by an as-yet unidentified passerby.
While there are boating speed limits in effect in the area, where swimmers are known to dip a toe when the mercury rises, we’ve had trouble in the past figuring out who’s in charge of enforcing them. And we’ve not seen a lot of activity to that effect on our piece of the river. Hopefully, that will change during these last few weeks of summer.
While it’s crucial to ensure that boaters and swimmers alike are following rules that were put into place for everyone’s safety, there is far more to the issue, as B.C.’s grim record shows.
Hundreds of people drown in Canada each year, and here in B.C. — one of the nation’s favourite summer playgrounds — 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 Metro Vancouver 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). Swimming after dark, and swimming alone are the other two main contributors to drowning.
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.
We have no idea what the circumstances were surrounding the Langley woman’s death. And, at the moment, that doesn’t really matter. It’s simply one more loss too many.