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Posted: August 5, 2020

Beware over-confidence, impairment in and on water

A new BC Hydro report finds an increase in drowning or near-drowning incidents at its recreation sites may be tied to visitors overestimating their swimming abilities and engaging in risky behaviour in the water.

The report titled “Risk and Recreation: British Columbians not as prepared for the water as they think” finds the two drownings at its Buntzen Lake recreation site (north of Anmore) were the first in over a decade.

“While there are no BC Hydro recreation sites in the East Kootenay, we know that Koocanusa Reservoir (pictured above) is a popular recreation spot and we want to take the opportunity to remind people to make safety a priority in and around the water,” said Sally MacDonald, BC Hydro Public Affairs Officer.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, a survey conducted on behalf of BC Hydro found about 70% of British Columbians are planning staycations or holidays within the province, and most will visit local lakes and rivers.

The survey also found many British Columbians overestimate their abilities. While 85% rate themselves as experienced swimmers, most are only in the water a few times each summer. In addition, most British Columbians have not completed a formal swimming lesson in more than 10 years and an additional 10% indicate they have never completed a single lesson.

This lack of experience and practice may be the reason why almost 30% of British Columbians say they have had a near drowning experience and 53% have witnessed another person in the water in distress.

It can also be attributed to the unsafe behaviours. For example:

  • Almost half confess to going in the water under the influence of alcohol or marijuana.
  • About 20% admit to swimming in areas they were not supposed to be.
  • More than 40% of parents acknowledge being somewhat distracted when their children are in the water.
  • Many admit to not using personal floatation devices, including 24% of boaters, 27% of kayakers, 28% of canoers and 58% of tubers.

Despite all of this risky behaviour, only about half of British Columbians have had basic first aid training at some point in their lives.

When visiting BC Hydro recreation sites, BC Hydro recommends:

  • Never leaving children unsupervised while in or near the water. Children and non-swimmers should always wear a personal flotation device.
  • Watching for changes in the weather and checking the forecast before starting out on the water.
  • Providing an approved personal floatation device – even an inflatable model – for everyone in a boat or canoe.
  • Understanding many of the lakes in its recreation facilities are cold enough to cause serious harm. Cold water reduces body heat 25 times faster than air does at the same temperature.
  • Staying out of the water if under the influence of drugs or alcohol – they affect judgement and reaction time.
  • Keeping outside of safety booms and buoys, and away from all dam structures.

BC Hydro

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