Amid swim­ming season, au­thor­i­ties warn about cliff-jump­ing, in­ex­pe­ri­ence

Times Colonist - - The Capital - DARRON KLOSTER

As warm weather beck­ons and stay­ca­tions kick into high gear this long week­end, of­fi­cials are warn­ing about po­ten­tial drown­ings due to risky be­hav­iour such as cliff jump­ing and swim­mer in­ex­pe­ri­ence on the prov­ince’s rivers and lakes.

The B.C. Life­sav­ing So­ci­ety has re­ported 21 drown­ings so far this year, in­clud­ing the death of a woman in Matheson Lake on July 22. That’s about half the 45 peo­ple who die from drown­ing each year, according to pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment data. How­ever, the outdoor swim­ming season is re­ally only start­ing as the weather warms.

A man was also in­jured this month after jump­ing off a cliff at Thetis Lake. It’s a per­sis­tent prob­lem for res­cuers at the re­gional park, where fire­fight­ers re­spond to five or six se­ri­ous ac­ci­dents ev­ery sum­mer, said View Royal Fire Chief Paul Hurst.

A re­port by B.C. Hy­dro ahead of the long week­end says peo­ple are over­es­ti­mat­ing their swim­ming abil­i­ties, tak­ing ex­treme chances and going into the wa­ter after con­sum­ing cannabis or alcohol.

An on­line sur­vey con­ducted be­tween June 18 and 22 in­cluded 600 peo­ple and re­vealed 85 per cent of re­spon­dents rated them­selves as ex­pe­ri­enced swim­mers, even though most do not swim of­ten and haven’t had a for­mal swim­ming les­son in more than 10 years. An ad­di­tional 10 per cent said they’ve never com­pleted a les­son.

B.C. Hy­dro man­ages 19 recre­ation ar­eas, in­clud­ing parks and beaches near power-gen­er­at­ing sites that draw two mil­lion vis­i­tors a year. With the pan­demic and stay­ca­tions in­creas­ing, those num­bers are ex­pected to in­crease across the prov­ince.

“The po­ten­tial for drown­ings is al­ways a con­cern at this time of year, when the weather is warm and peo­ple want to head out to our lakes and rivers,” said Dale Miller, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the B.C. Yukon Life­sav­ing So­ci­ety. “What we want is for peo­ple to think ahead … what are you going to do if a mem­ber of your group gets into trou­ble?”

Miller said of the 21 drown­ings this year, 10 of the vic­tims never ex­pected to be in the wa­ter. He said they got into a boat or kayak and something un­ex­pected hap­pened. “You should have life­jack­ets, you should have the right equip­ment — like something to throw some­one in dis­tress,” he said.

The B.C. Hy­dro re­port found lack of ex­pe­ri­ence and prac­tice might be the rea­son why al­most 30 per cent of Bri­tish Columbians say they have had a neardrown­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and 53 per cent have wit­nessed another per­son in the wa­ter in dis­tress.

The sur­vey also found al­most half of re­spon­dents con­fess to going in the wa­ter un­der the in­flu­ence of alcohol or mar­i­juana. About 20 per cent ad­mit to swim­ming in re­stricted ar­eas. More than 40 per cent of par­ents ac­knowl­edged be­ing some­what dis­tracted when their chil­dren are in the wa­ter.

Many also ad­mit to not us­ing personal floata­tion de­vices, in­clud­ing 24 per cent of boaters, 27 per cent of kayak­ers, 28 per cent of ca­noe users and 58 per cent of tu­bers.

The sur­vey said men are 30 per cent more likely to be un­der the in­flu­ence than women when swim­ming. Of those ad­mit­ting to swim­ming out of bounds, 70 per cent were men. “This is es­pe­cially dan­ger­ous at B.C. Hy­dro’s recre­ation sites,” the re­port said. “Many of these sites are lo­cated on work­ing reser­voirs, mean­ing there are dam struc­tures that can be dan­ger­ous if sig­nage is not obeyed and dis­tance is not main­tained.”

Wa­ter lev­els can change quickly in re­sponse to power de­mand.

“Swim­ming in an un­con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment such as a lake or river is much more dan­ger­ous than in a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment, such as a pool, be­cause of the cur­rents, sud­den tem­per­a­ture changes and drop points, and un­pre­dictable weather,” the re­port said.

Miller noted that about 80 per cent of drown­ings each year in­volve men, many of them younger and tak­ing chances on the wa­ter. Most are be­tween the ages of 20 and 34.

“It’s tough to con­vince them not to take that risky be­hav­iour,” he said of cliff jump­ing or long swims in un­known wa­ters. “If they have to do it, we ask you or those in the group to think ahead and plan for what could hap­pen.

“It’s one thing to swim in a pool, but jump­ing into a deep, cold lake or a river with cur­rents is quite dif­fer­ent,” said Miller. “There is also the fa­tigue that can oc­cur. That swim out to that dock in the lake can be over­whelm­ing and peo­ple get into trou­ble.”

Hurst said that cliff jump­ing at Thetis Lake is a ma­jor con­cern.

Over the past two decades, there have been six drown­ings and dozens of peo­ple have been in­jured after jump­ing from the cliffs at the lake.

Hurst is meet­ing with Cap­i­tal Re­gional Dis­trict of­fi­cials next week to dis­cuss ways to ad­dress the is­sue. “It’s frus­trat­ing that we have to keep do­ing this over and over again,” Hurst said. “Something has to be done. We will still show up and clean up the mess, but I don’t know what it’s going to take to stop it.”

The on­line sur­vey has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or mi­nus four per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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