High water, more boaters means busy year for water rescues in Yukon

·3 min read
An RCMP boat travels through Miles Canyon in Whitehorse. Police said this week they've responded to nine calls so far this year involving people on waterways in Whitehorse. (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)
An RCMP boat travels through Miles Canyon in Whitehorse. Police said this week they've responded to nine calls so far this year involving people on waterways in Whitehorse. (Paul Tukker/CBC - image credit)

RCMP in Yukon say they've had their hands full this summer, rescuing people who've gotten into trouble on the water.

"It certainly has been busier this year than in years past," said Cpl. Cam Long this week.

"There's certainly an increased number of people getting involved in water activities. And of course … everybody knows this year our water levels are higher."

As of this week, police say they've responded to 14 calls involving people on waterways, and nine of those have been in Whitehorse.

Yukon's coroner says there has been one fatality this year, involving a non-motorized water vessel.

"You know, we're seeing situations that easily become catastrophic," said Heather Jones, chief coroner. "This is a critical concern."

Flood conditions this year in southern Yukon have made for dangerous conditions on many lakes and rivers. Emergency responders and experienced boaters have been urging extreme caution, especially on or near fast-moving rivers.

The high water has also proven a challenge for emergency responders. When some boaters recently got into trouble on Marsh Lake, police had some trouble getting their own boats into the water quickly.

"We were trying to find a launch," said RCMP Insp. Lindsay Ellis.

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC

Emergency responders managed to get to those boaters, but it was a close call. Their boat had capsized and they were not wearing life jackets or personal flotation devices (PFDs).

"Your PFD is no good to you if it's in the boat and you're in the water," said Long.

"We still, unfortunately, have people that aren't very well prepared for the activities that they're undertaking. But overall, I think it's just a lot more people on our waterways."

Cold water means not much time to survive

Long says Yukon waterways are cold, all year round. That means that if you end up in the water, you don't have a lot of time before it becomes difficult to move and hypothermia sets in. Sometimes people begin to hyperventilate as soon as they hit the water and can't get their breathing under control.

"If you don't have a PFD on, the likelihood of drowning in that first minute of cold water immersion is very high," said Long.

"If you do get your breathing under control, you have 10 minutes of meaningful movement before you start losing your ability to move your limbs. So, you know, if you can't move your limbs after 10 minutes, you don't have a PFD or a life jacket on, you're going to drown."

Ellis says people can sometimes have a false sense of security when they're on the water somewhere in Whitehorse.

"You know, I think a lot of folks in Whitehorse, whether they're residents or visitors alike, feel that potentially they're in an urban environment and that help is readily available," she said.

Philippe Morin/CBC
Philippe Morin/CBC

"I feel that this year we were probably better prepared than we have been any other year. And that still has not taken away the challenges that we've seen this year with the increased amount of people on the waterways, and the amount of calls that we've received here in the Whitehorse area."

Police say it's essential that boaters not assume that help will be readily available. That means wearing a life jacket, and having other emergency equipment at hand.

"That's important for the public to realize — that no matter what your experience level, preparedness and taking care of yourself first is key," Ellis said.

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