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Deadly waters

According to the BC Coroners Service more people drown every year in the Interior and specifically in Okanagan Lake than any other area of the province.

In fact, according to their latest statistics, in the Interior alone, an average of 28 people tragically drown every year, giving our region the distinction of the most drownings in the province, making up 35.9 per cent overall.

And it is Okanagan Lake, the stunning 135 kilometre long lake that brings tourists by the thousands, that takes the most lives in the province - 21 since 2008.

The second deadliest body of water is the Fraser River that saw 19 deaths since 2008 followed by the Thompson River that saw 11 deaths, Shuswap Lake at 9 and Kalamalka Lake with 7.

Now, with summer in full swing, the annual spike in drownings is expected over the next two months bringing the average number of drownings in the province to 80 per year.

The majority of these fatalities occur between May and August at 60.1 per cent with a peak in August. In July and August alone an average of 30 people drown in the province.

The BC Coroner Service also found that 79.3 per cent of those who drowned were men while 20.7 per cent were women. 20-29 years olds made up the largest proportion of those who died at 21.3 per cent.

Alcohol and/or drugs were also seen as a large contributing factor to drowning deaths, reported in 39.6 per cent of cases.

Often locals feel those who drown are tourists who don't know the lake or know the boating rules but of those who drowned only 12.1 per cent were from out of province warns the coroner.

Leslie Taylor, Swimming and Water Safety Representative for the Interior Red Cross says most of the tragedies can be avoided, and the Red Cross is urging water lovers to have fun and enjoy but take the necessary steps to stay alive.

“By all means yes, go out and have fun. I mean this is a vacation land but because of the high percentages of drownings this time of year you have to be aware that there can be some tragic incidences,” warns Taylor.

Taylor says people do not go to the water with the intention or knowledge they are going to drown that day. She says something happens, they fall in and they are not prepared.

“People are not thinking of the fact that they can drown in water. The attitudes are that it is not going to happen to them, but it can, it does.”

A recent report by the Canadian Red Cross found that nearly 100 Canadians drown every year, many of them young children, just from an unexpected fall into the water.

After compiling 20 years of data they found on average 525 people drown every year in Canada. Like the BC Coroner they also determined that a majority of the deaths occur between May 1 and Aug 31 while Canadians engage in recreational activities on inland bodies of water such as lakes, ponds, rivers and streams.

Taylor says the Red Cross finds there are two groups of people that are the most vulnerable to drownings.

First are kids ages 1 to 5 who make up 21 per cent of those lost nation-wide.

“Parents please make sure that you are supervising your children, that they do have life-jackets on when they are in the water,” says Taylor. But please don't let the life jacket be the watchful eye that the parent is because children can disappear in just seconds and it doesn’t take long for them to drown.”

She says men aged 15 to 44 are the next group at risk and the majority of those are boating fatalities.

“Be aware that when anyone boats that you have life jackets or PFDs for everyone in the boat and of course it would be better if they wore it, but that is not law yet apparently,” noted Taylor. “Just make sure that your know your waterways, you don't drink and boat, you have your proper equipment and be mindful that weather plays a big factor.”

Taylor also suggests that anyone who loves to go out, on, in or around our waterways to take swimming lessons.

“Learn to swim, be proactive, it is valuable knowledge for a life-long skill,” says Taylor who adds those who take swimming lessons also learn a lot about water safety within those programs, and that that knowledge could save your life.

“By prevention, by learning to swim, by knowing some of the water safety rules, by knowing what you have to do before you go and have fun, like anything, is what we promote,” wraps up Taylor.

In 2013 there were 28 drownings in the Interior.

So far this year preliminary numbers from the BC Coroner's preliminary numbers show there have been 15 drownings in the Interior and 25 province-wide.

 

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