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Alcohol, marijuana, overconfidence possible factors in drowning-related accidents: BC Hydro report

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.

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 in Port Moody were the first in over a decade.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, a survey conducted on behalf of BC Hydro found about 70 per cent 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 per cent rate themselves as experienced swimmers, most are only in the water a few times each summer. 

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In addition, most British Columbians have not completed a formal swimming lesson in more than 10 years and an additional 10 per cent indicate they have never completed a single lesson.

This lack of experience and practice may be the reason why almost 30 per cent of BC’ers say they have had a near drowning experience and 53 per cent 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 per cent admit to swimming in areas they were not supposed to be.
  • More than 40 per cent of parents acknowledge being somewhat distracted when their children are in the water.
  • Many admit to not using personal floatation devices, including 24 per cent of boaters, 27 per cent of kayakers, 28 per cent of canoers and 58 per cent of tubers.

Meanwhile, roughly half of those surveyed have had basic first aid training at some point in their lives.

When visiting its recreation sites, BC Hydro recommends that you:

  • Never leaving children unsupervised while in or near the water. Children and non-swimmers should always wear a personal flotation device.
  • Watch for changes in the weather and check the forecast before starting out on the water.
  • Provide an approved personal floatation device – even an inflatable model – for everyone in a boat or canoe.
  • Understand 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.
  • Stay out of the water if under the influence of drugs or alcohol – they affect judgement and reaction time.
  • Keepoutside of safety booms and buoys, and away from all dam structures.

You can find more information on BC Hydro’s recreation sites here.

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