Penticton Safety and Security Advisory Committee discussing Channel risks and signage improvements after 15 near drownings

Risks of the river channel

The Penticton Safety & Security Advisory Committee are discussing the city’s river channel risks and signage improvements after a large number of near drownings occurred during last year's river floats.

Thousands come to Penticton’s river channel for the leisurely 7 km float toward Skaha Lake and they usually make it a heightened time for first responders in the area.

Minutes of the committee's meeting on March 29 discussed the upcoming season and plans for enhanced signage in the area to improve traffic control.

Fire Chief Larry Watkinson gave committee members a rundown on their plans for this year.

“The Penticton Fire Department will again be conducting river rescue channel rescues once needed,” said Watkinson. “We had 15 near drownings last year, which was a unique year, with fast-moving water.”

A focus will be placed on education surrounding what to do when someone is in distress, encouraging the public to call 911.

The Fire Department will continue to work with partnering agencies to ensure they receive “early notification when someone is in distress in the water… because as you know, seconds count when you’re drowning,” said Watkinson.

“We have really dialled in our rescue program with our swift water rescue team,” he explained. “The system we’re using works very well. The education piece is a very big part of it. The challenge we face is we have been doing this for years but we’re seeing larger groups, bigger floatation devices and people tying them together.”

Kristen Dixon, the City’s General Manager of Infrastructure, said signage improvements will be made to help traffic flow.

“On the transportation side, we have been focused on the issues in terms of parking, creating a pickup/dropping off zone, and working with stakeholders to make that as good as possible, recognizing we have limited jurisdiction in that area,” she said.

Committee member Deirdre Riley questioned whether children are required to wear life jackets.

Watkinson stated that, according to federal law, everyone must be wearing a life jacket, but that it’s difficult to enforce. Most can be spotted down the channel without one.

Committee member Matt Taylor questioned him whether Penticton is sharing best practices with other cities that have similar waterways.

According to Watkinson, the marine rescue program was created in 2017 and has become more robust each year. Penticton has consulted with Calgary and Hawaii and has conducted a lot of training in the area.

“I get calls on a regular basis on the development of our program and I’m quite proud of it,” he said.

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