Safety reminder issued as drowning calls rise in Saskatchewan

·3 min read
A properly fitting life-jacket is an essential piece of equipment in water activities, drowning prevention advocacy groups say.  (CBC News - image credit)
A properly fitting life-jacket is an essential piece of equipment in water activities, drowning prevention advocacy groups say. (CBC News - image credit)

Visitors to Saskatchewan's lakes and rivers are being reminded to put safety first while on the water as the number of drowning incidents in the province rise.

There have been eight drowning incidents reported to the RCMP from the start of June to July 16. That is twice as high as in the same period last year and a 25 per cent increase from 2020.

The incidents came from across the province, including the Lumsden, Moose Jaw, Fond du Lac, Saskatoon, Spiritwood, Dillon and Meadow Lake areas.

This increase continues a trend in drowning deaths that began two years ago.

According to the Saskatchewan Coroner's Service, which investigates unnatural deaths, there were 23 drowning deaths in 2021 and 24 in 2020, a significant increase from 13 in 2019 and 11 in 2018.

"I think that the years 2020 and 2021 may – and I stress may – be a bit of an anomaly because of the pandemic and people staying close to home and seeking things they probably wouldn't have done in the past," said Clive Weighill, Saskatchewan's chief coroner.

He noted that there may be more people utilizing lakes and rivers for recreation in recent years due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

Lifesaving Society of Saskatchewan
Lifesaving Society of Saskatchewan

While drowning is one of the most common causes of unintentional death in Canada, Weighill stresses it is preventable if "people would take the proper precautions."

That's a perspective shared by the Lifesaving Society of Saskatchewan, a national organization that works to prevent drowning and water-related injuries. The society has a number of programs to help educate people and remind them how to stay safe.

Logan Gamble, the society's special projects co-ordinator and trainer, acknowledges that some people who are used to spending time around bodies of water might get too comfortable and forget to take preventative measures.

The organization regularly holds training and education activities all over the province to teach people how to prioritize safety.

Lifesaving Society of Saskatchewan
Lifesaving Society of Saskatchewan

"It's always important to have that water rescue training or we help them to get some safety devices around the swimming areas, have proper supervision of the children, and get people to wear their life jackets — that is one of the most important things."

According to statistics compiled by the society, failure to wear a personal floatation device is a factor in an overwhelming majority of drowning incidents.

Gamble also noted that popular activities including paddle boarding and kayaking can give people a false sense of security because those devices are buoyant.

"People think that because the board floats they can just hold on to it, which is somewhat true. But depending on the situation, if you're not wearing your PFD, as a recent incident here in Saskatchewan showed, if you fall off you're going to have a tough time getting back on to it and you might not be successful."

The society recommends that people not swim alone, avoid alcohol, and ensure children are constantly supervised when in or near the water.

The society also cautions people against trying to rescue someone who is drowning.  In 2021 three people lost their lives in Saskatchewan trying to help someone who was drowning.

Gamble advises people to throw an extra life jacket or another item that floats to the person, and talking to the person to keep them calm.

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