As summer heats up at last in British Columbia, experts are warning people about the dangers of playing in or on the water.
Dale Miller, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon branch of the Lifesaving Society, said it’s important to “know the water” – whether there are currents or a drop off, or how cold it is.
“We have a lot of glacier-fed lakes in the province … that are cold even in the summer,” he told Black Press Media by phone.
Although drownings in B.C. this year are down significantly compared to 2018, with 18 compared to 47 this time last year, Miller said the recent stretch of hot weather could lead to more deaths.
“I know people think, ‘Oh, it’s never going to happen to me,’ but when it does, it helps if you’ve taken a few moments just to think ahead.”
The Lifesaving Society doesn’t offer the “Learn to Swim” that’s available through the Red Cross, but they do offer a three-lesson Swim to Survive course that he called the “absolute minimum” anyone should have.
“Do you have some form of flotation device you could take with you? Do you have something you could throw to someone [who’s in distress]?”
But having a flotation device doesn’t guarantee your safety, he added.
On July 27, a woman was sitting on a floaty in Hayward Lake near Mission when she was swept up by the current. She tried to swim to shore, but was too exhausted by the pull of the water.
Shaun Nugent of Langley swam out and was able to save her, but he died the next day for causes that have yet to be officially determined but that his wife has said were connected to the rescue.
Miller said inflatables can give poor swimmers a false sense of safety.
“There are many situations where people fall off the inflatable and get separated from it. Then, being a non-swimmer or maybe panicking in the water is how they get in trouble.”
While any rescue attempt is heroic, Miller said it’s best to try and throw a life ring or rope into the water for the distressed swimmer whenever possible.
If you do have to get into the water, he recommended taking some sort of flotation aid – even a pool noodle – to help stay afloat.
“Just something that victim can hang onto as you’re towing them in… making sure there’s not two victims.”
Miller was not aware of Nugent’s exact cause of death, but said rescuers can sometimes suffer from what’s known as secondary drowning, when a person doesn’t drown in the water but takes in large amounts of water into their lungs.
Only five per cent of rescuers get it, he said, but it can be fatal. It’s marked by shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, coughing and chest discomfort. Anyone displaying any of those symptoms should go to the hospital right away.