With the British Columbia Day long weekend getting underway, the BC Coroners Service is again urging residents and visitors to take care while enjoying recreational water activities, especially boating and swimming.
A new review just completed by the Coroners Service shows that boating is significantly the highest-risk activity for drowning among recreational water users. A total of 37.5 per cent of persons who drowned in recreational cases in the five-and-a-half years from Jan. 1, 2008 to July 29, 2013, were engaged in some type of boating activity at the time. This included powerboats, rowboats, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, and pontoon boats, and also those who were fishing from a boat when things went wrong.
The single most effective step to take while boating in any small craft is to wear a properly-fitted personal floatation device (PFD) at all times when on the water. A study from the University of Washington suggests that as many as one in two recreational-boating deaths would be prevented by this one step alone. Another study, from the New York state health department, found that more than 70 per cent of recreational boating deaths occurred when the person became separated from their water craft, either through falling overboard, the boat capsizing, or even deliberately choosing to go for a swim. In all those cases, the fact that a PFD was aboard the boat was of no assistance to the person.
The Coroners Service review shows that the second-most risky activity in recreational water use is swimming, with 28 per cent of the deaths occurring amongst swimmers.
The total number of accidental drownings from Jan. 1 to July 29 this year in B.C. is 45, exactly the average of the past five years and a slight decrease from 2012 figures. However, August is historically the month with the highest number of drowning cases, prompting a need for ongoing vigilance.