Water Safety only Makes Sense


Cold WaterTHUNDER BAY – News – Summer time with warm weather means people are heading to the cool water of the lakes, rivers and streams. One of the risks is drowning. In Thunder Bay it is camp country, with swimming, fishing, and boating a part of the lives of thousands of people in our community and region. Across the North, there are countless lakes. Our friends to the south in Minnesota might live in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” but they have nothing on Northwestern Ontario.

However it is not all great news. At the mid-summer mark, the Lifesaving Society reports that none of the 12 victims of this summer’s boating fatalities were wearing a lifejacket. This continues the trend from 2010 when 22 of 23 boaters who drowned in Ontario (from May 1- September 30) were found not wearing a lifejacket.

The colder waters that are so refreshing can also be deadly.

In June, the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario released its review of all accidental drownings in Ontario from May 1 to September 30, 2010. The report recommended that wearing lifejackets in small vessels be mandatory. “The Lifesaving Society is a longtime supporter of the need for legislation requiring the wearing of lifejackets in boats under 6 metres and we are concerned about this disturbing trend in 2011,” says Barbara Byers, Public Education Director and member of the Coroner’s Drowning Review Committee.

Drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death in Canada and the second leading cause of preventable death in children under 10 years of age. Most of the fatalities of 2011 could have been prevented if Canadians were aware of the risks and adopted key prevention strategies. The Lifesaving Society encourages all Canadians to be prepared for water activities by wearing a lifejacket, keeping their children within arms’ reach and learning to swim.

Interim data collected by the Lifesaving Society from media and internet reports of drownings indicate that 29 Ontarians drowned between May 1 and July 10, 2011. While the totals are down from the same period in 2010 (38), the Society confirms that the areas of concern remain consistent.

Men continue to lead with 25 drownings since May 1 – or 86% of all drownings. On a positive note, drownings amongst children under 5 are down (1 in 2011 vs. 4) and there have been fewer drownings in backyard pools (3 in 2011 vs. 9). This contrasts with the 260% year over year spike in drownings amongst children under 5 years of age in 2010. Many of these children drowned in backyard pools. Young children are the most vulnerable risk group for drowning and their safety depends on the vigilant supervision of parents and caregivers.

As we approach National Drowning Prevention Week which begins on Saturday July 16, the Lifesaving Society offers important water safety messages to remind Canadians that being safe in and around the water can be simple, fun and prevent a tragedy that may ruin more than your summer. The Society urges Canadians to:

Buckle Up – your lifejacket

Having a lifejacket on board is a good start, but not good enough to prevent drowning. “Trying to put on a lifejacket as your boat capsizes is like trying to put on a seatbelt in the middle of a car crash,” says Byers. The Lifesaving Society encourages boaters and swimmers to “buckle up” their lifejackets. “You wear your seatbelt in the car, so wear your lifejacket in the boat,” she says.

Leave alcohol on shore

Alcohol and water make a deadly cocktail. The Lifesaving Society notes that alcohol contributed to 67% of adult drowning deaths in 2010. The Society strongly urges Ontarians to recognize the dangers of alcohol consumption on the water. Byers offers this important message: “‘water on the water, beer on the pier’. It’s the same as drinking and driving. You don’t do it on the road; don’t do it on the water.”

Keep children ‘within arms’ reach’ and within sight at all times

When children are in or around the water, it is crucial that their caregivers be “within arms’ reach” and within direct eyesight at all times. The Lifesaving Society reminds you that drowning is a quick and silent killer. “Many parents think they’ll hear if their child is in trouble. Drowning takes as little as 10 seconds. By the time you turn and flip the burgers on the BBQ you could have lost your loved one without even realizing it,” says Byers. Designate a backyard pool lifeguard. Put all children who are not strong swimmers in lifejackets. Assign one adult per child to maintain vigilant supervision.

Control and restrict children’s access to water

Most toddlers drown in backyard pools. Out of the 8 drownings in private/backyard pools in 2010, the parents or caregivers of 5 victims did not intend for their children to be in the water. It is imperative that parents and pool owners take steps to prevent children from gaining access to unsupervised pools. The Lifesaving Society encourages pool owners to establish layers of protection. Use 4-sided fencing, self-closing/self-latching gate systems and alarms. Keep hot tubs covered when not in use and fence off natural or man-made bodies of water on your property.

When on the beach, parents and caregivers should take the same precautions. Non-swimmers should wear lifejackets. Find out about the water depths and conditions of the day before letting children swim. Assign an adult to watch the children. Most importantly, be vigilant. Go into the water with children so that you can watch them closely. It takes only seconds for the unthinkable to happen.

Learn to Swim

Everyone should learn to swim. Ontario’s climate and geography provide for many opportunities to swim and enjoy water recreation. The Lifesaving Society believes that every Canadian should be able to, at minimum, meet the Canadian Swim to Survive standard (ROLL into deep water – TREAD water for 1 minute – SWIM 50 m). This is the basic swimming skill necessary to survive an unexpected fall into deep water. Parents should contact their local community centre to register for lessons for the entire family.

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