After four people drowned in separate incidents in British Columbia last Sunday, water-safety advocates and emergency response organizations are again pleading with swimmers to be careful when out on the water.
According to preliminary data from the B.C. and Yukon Branch of the Lifesaving Society, 32 people have drowned in B.C. so far this year, up a third from this time last year, when 24 people had died from drowning.
"It's not unusual to see that spike this time of year," said Dale Miller, the executive director of the local Lifesaving Society who called the deaths preventable.
"We are aiming for zero."
And it's not just deaths that have spiked recently. Near-drownings are up as well.
According to new data from B.C. Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), paramedics across the province have responded to 159 water-related emergencies so far, already 21 more than all of last summer.
Last weekend alone, authorities received 11 calls related to a drowning or near-drowning, according to the BCEHS, nearly three times the average for a summer weekend in B.C.
Practise 'common sense,' says paramedic
It doesn't have to be this way, said Catharina Goosen, a senior paramedic in Kelowna.
Goosen advises people venturing into the water to simply use their common sense: "be smart" after drinking alcohol; keep a close eye on your children; pay attention to water conditions and wear a life-jacket when required.
Goosen also encourages parents to enrol their kids in swimming lessons.
Meanwhile, Miller urges folks to have a flotation device ready to toss to a struggling swimmer, so people don't attempt a dangerous rescue themselves.
The new data from the Lifesaving Society and the BCEHS follows a recent report from B.C. Hydro, which found that 85 per cent of swimmers in B.C. consider themselves experienced, but 63 per cent swim only a few times each year. The majority of survey respondents — 85 per cent — haven't completed formal swimming lessons in more than 10 years, and 10 per cent said they've never completed a lesson.
Drowning deaths on long-term decline
According to the BCEHS, the highest number of water-related emergencies reported for July — 21 — occurred in the Interior Health region. Vancouver Island and the Vancouver Coastal Health region were close behind with 19 and 18 calls that month, respectively.
BCEHS paramedics usually respond to approximately 350 drowning or near-drowning incidents a year, with most calls coming during the summer, according to the provincial organization.
Adding its voice to the chorus of concern, the B.C. RCMP released a statement Thursday that said its Underwater Recovery Team (URT) has recently completed "complex recoveries" in areas the URT rarely visits.
"It is thought that people are travelling further into the wilderness given that many of the usual recreational areas have been closed," said URT diving co-ordinator Sgt. Steven Pebernat.
Despite the warning, B.C. has actually experienced a gradual decline in drowning deaths over the past 25 years.
In 1994, 155 people in B.C. died from drowning. Ten years later, that figure was 82, and by 2017 it had dropped to 59, according to data from the B.C. Coroners Service.
But for the families affected, emergency crews and witnesses, drowning incidents are devastating, Goosen said.
"Enjoy the summer weather. Enjoy the water," she said. "But please be safe when you're going out there."