British Columbia

Lifeguards preach caution, awareness to prevent drownings as hot weather hits

The Vancouver Park Board and other providers are offering free swim to survive lessons for children and youth. Hundreds of Canadians die in preventable water-related incidents each year.

Vancouver Park Board and other providers are offering free swim to survive lessons for youth

Parsa Kazemi keeps watch over swimmers at the Aquatic Centre at the University of British Columbia on Sunday. He says drowning deaths are completely preventable. (CBC)

Hundreds of people still drown each year in Canada in incidents that are completely preventable, according to lifeguards who are reminding swimmers to stay safe.

Colin Johnston speaks for the Vancouver Lifeguard Association and says he and his colleagues focus on behaviour that may result in trouble.

"95 per cent of our job is drowning prevention," he said. That means watching for people diving into shallow water, swimming in areas they aren't able to and making sure parents are within arms reach of their young children.

 "All parents care about their kids, but often times we are viewed as babysitters. But in reality if we are focused on one child because the parents are not paying attention I can't watch the 200 other people I need to be watching," said Johnston.

People head in and out of the water on a hot day at Kits Beach in Vancouver on Sunday. Lifeguards say smart phones can sometimes be a dangerous distraction at the water's edge. (CBC)

Johnston also says while smart phones have helped lifeguards when it comes to calling for help, they can be a dangerous distraction near the water.

It's something parents like Meghan Orlinksy understand. She was at Kits Beach in Vancouver on Saturday keeping her children close because she says even a quick glance down could be costly.

"It takes five seconds to drown, that's heartbreaking," she said,

Orlinsky has a three-and-a-half-year-old son named Hugh who loves the water, but when it comes to his safety she takes no chances.

"We take him swimming a lot and just keep him in our reach and don't take out eyes off of him," she said.

A mother keeps a tight hold on her children as they dip their feet in the water at Kits Beach in Vancouver on Sunday. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

There were 50 unintentional water-related fatalities in B.C. in 2017, according to the latest data available from the Lifesaving Society, and 283 across the rest of the country.

Parsa Kazemi, a lifeguard at the University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre, says those numbers are too high.

"Really the biggest thing is, drowning is completely preventable," he said.

He says a big problem at pools are people who venture into deeper water even though they aren't strong swimmers. 

"It's really important that you are at the depth that you are comfortable with," he said.

Vancouver boater Derrick Difant never ventures out onto the water without safety equipment such as life jackets. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Along with swimming within your capabilities, lifeguards also advise people to wear personal flotation devices when boating, not consume alcohol when boating or going into water and to swim with others or under supervision.

That's something Jeanette Purdham adheres to. She is a triathlete who often swims in the ocean to train. She says just because she's experienced, she know she still needs to be careful.

"Anybody could get into trouble in water, I would never go out on my own," she said. "I can swim for four kilometres, but I'd never get cocky. It's the ocean, there's current and weather."

July 21-27 is drowning prevention week in Canada. The Vancouver Park Board and other providers are offering free swim to survive courses to youth.


With files from Deborah Goble


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.