Every year Canadians wait with anticipation for the arrival of summer so they can jump in their pools, or plan beach vacations full of swimming, boating, and relaxation. As enjoyable as a backyard pool or lakefront vacation can be, safety needs to be a top priority, especially when it comes to water.
In advance of National Drowning Prevention Week (held annually during the third week of July), we sat down with Raynald Hawkins, General Manager of the Lifesaving Society Quebec Branch, to better understand what we can all do to help prevent drowning and water-related injuries.
Good Hands Blog Team (GHBT): Research shows, that very year, there are over 450 drowning-related deaths in Canada. What do these incidents have in common?
Raynald Hawkins: The most common factor is that these deaths are generally preventable. Whether it’s the result of a life jacket that went unused, inadequate supervision around the pool, consumption of alcohol or cannabis, or simply reckless behaviour, these choices and actions have resulted in lives lost.
By adopting and advocating for safer behaviours and adequate supervision around water, everyone can do their part in helping to reduce the number of drownings in Canada.
GHBT: When children are playing near water, we all know adult supervision is required but to what extent?
Raynald Hawkins: Being fully present is key because drowning can be a fairly silent event. It might be tempting to dive into a book you’re reading or play on your phone, but things can change in a matter of seconds and this inattention could mean the difference between making wonderful memories and a tragic accident.
Anytime you’re headed to the beach or even just swimming in your backyard, or that of a neighbour’s, preparation is key. It’s important to have everything you need with you, like sunscreen, snacks, towels, sunglasses, etc. so you never have to run back inside or to the car, and leave young swimmers unattended.
GHBT: The majority of boaters usually have a few life jackets with them on board in case of emergencies, but is it mandatory for passengers to wear them at all times?
Raynald Hawkins: The law clearly states that on a boat, there must be enough individual personal flotation vests (PFV) for every passenger on board.
Although this same law does not require people to wear their life jackets while on board, PFVs can’t save you if you aren’t wearing them. The risk of not wearing one means in the event of an emergency, your life jacket may not be closeby, and they can be a challenge to put on, particularly if you are feeling rushed or stressed. Imagine having to put on and do up your PFV, and your child’s, in the event of an emergency! For those reasons and countless others, we recommend wearing your PFV while on a boat throughout your trip.
We often hear that people hadn’t planned on needing them in an emergency or expect to flee their boats, but unfortunately accidents happen and in order to protect yourself, you need to plan ahead.
GHBT: For people with little interest in water sports or swimming, is learning to swim really necessary?
Raynald Hawkins: We recommend that all children learn how to swim, regardless if you have a pool at home or rarely go to the beach. Same goes for adults. Knowing how to swim is a life skill and it’s never too late to learn.
GHBT: Are good swimmers and experienced boaters less at risk?
Raynald Hawkins: No matter your experience level, it’s always better to have a buddy in case of an accident. Athletes and sailors are not immune to discomfort, fatigue, or extreme weather. Having a companion while engaging in an activity near water will always help to reduce the risks. We also recommend letting someone back home know where you’re going and how long you plan on being away, so that in the event an emergency, they can also act as a safety line and call for help if necessary.
GHBT: What are the impacts of alcohol or drug use on boating and swimming safety?
Raynald Hawkins: According to our numbers, 36% of deaths associated with navigation in Canada involved the consumption of such substances.* Alcohol and drugs alter judgment, alertness, reflexes and balance.
We know wind, waves, sun exposure and dehydration all take their toll on our abilities – and that’s without alcohol and drugs being involved. If you add alcohol and drugs to the mix, it makes swimming and navigation that much more difficult. In fact, it is said that consuming one alcoholic beverage while on water is equivalent to having three on land. *Source: Société de sauvetage 2018
Do the math. During activities near water, watch your consumption closely as well as the behaviour of those around you.
GHBT: How can we all help prevent a drowning?
Raynald Hawkins: The simplest thing is to adopt safe behaviours and enforce rules around water at all times. By prioritizing your safety and the safety of others, you’ll set an example for children and adults alike on the importance of being mindful around water.
You can also make a difference by improving your skills and knowledge. Why not learn how to swim, take a first aid course, or complete a boating tutorial?
Beaches, pools, lakes, and oceans are all meant to be enjoyed but it’s important to respect them and understand that water can be unpredictable. Planning ahead, taking preventative measures, and eliminating distractions will help to ensure you and your family have a safe and memorable summer around water.