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Jump in number of drownings in B.C. prompts warning

Aug 25 2012

The B.C. Coroners Service is urging people to be cautious on the ocean, lakes and rivers after 34 people drowned — including nine on Vancouver Island — in the past two months.

On Friday, coroner Barbara McLintock released statistics showing 34 people drowned between July 1 and Aug. 24, up from 22 people in July and August 2011 and 24 people in the same months in 2010.

Nine people have drowned on Vancouver Island, 14 in the southern Interior and five in northern B.C.

There's no one explanation for the spike in drownings, McLintock said. Some of the deaths have been freak accidents, while others could have been prevented through better water-safety measures.

"One of the things we've been noticing is people put their life-jackets in their boats, but they aren't wearing them," McLintock said.

"Then something happens and they become separated from their boat or the boat tips over. So the fact they have the life-jacket in the boat is not doing them a bit of good."

The coroner suspects some people have run into trouble with changing water conditions.

This year, she said, streams and rivers ran higher than normal for much longer than normal due to the heavy snowpack, late spring, and lots of rain in May and June.

"So people were tubing and rafting on rivers that might have been safe in other years but it just wasn't safe this year," said McLintock, who encouraged people to consider conditions before getting in the water.

The statistics showed 15 people drowned in lakes, 11 in rivers, six in the ocean and two in a swimming pool. Five of those who died were in their 70s. Six were in their 60s.

Seven people died while swimming and another seven died from falling into the water unexpectedly. Others were boating or rafting and tubing.

Two cliff divers — including one on the Island last week — died within a day of each other.

"Cliff jumping is a very high-risk activity," McLintock said. "Unless you really know what you're doing, it's very easy to hit that water at the wrong angle. You might as well jump onto concrete."

ldickson@timescolonist.com

WATER SAFETY TIPS

Always wear a properly fitting personal flotation device on the water.Alcohol and drugs and water-related activities do not mix. Alcohol and drugs impair your co-ordination and judgment, substantially adding to the risk inherent in swimming or boating.Visually inspect the area. Do not head blindly down a river or stream without being aware of the conditions downstream.Ensure visitors are informed about conditions in the lake or river. Warn them about steep drop-offs, rapids and other hazards.Never dive into unknown waters. Unexpectedly shallow water or hidden obstacles can be fatal. Diving from cliffs or other great heights is exceptionally high-risk.Always supervise children near water, keeping young children within arm's length. Pre-school-aged children can drown in only a few centimetres of water, and the drowning is often silent.
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