Nova Scotia

Male 'bravado' plays a role in Nova Scotia drownings

Male ego and carelessness are two of the biggest factors that have led to at least 10 drownings in Nova Scotia so far this year, according to two officials who worry there's already been so many this early into the summer.

'There's risk taking,' says Red Cross official. 'A sense that they don't need to be wearing a life jacket'

RCMP divers at Chocolate Lake in Halifax recovered the body Connor O'Callaghan, 28, who drowned earlier this month. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Male ego and carelessness are two of the biggest factors that have led to at least 10 drownings in Nova Scotia so far this year, according to two officials who worry there's already been so many this early into the summer.

"There's bravado there," said Dan Bedell, spokesperson for the Red Cross in Atlantic Canada. 

"There's risk taking that occurs as well and a sense that they don't need to be wearing a life jacket or that even if they have it close by they'll be able to get it on in time. And that never works."      

The Lifesaving Society, a national organization that tracks and records drowning data from across the country, said only one woman has drowned in the province this year. All the rest are men.

A rescue team searches the waters off Port Medway, N.S., in May for a man and a woman who died after their boat overturned. (Submitted by Janet Clattenburg)

Bedell said in general there tend to be more men on the water than women, which may skew the numbers. Most commercial and recreational fishermen and boaters are male, he said. 

Most of the drownings in Nova Scotia happened while men were boating. 

"The analysis that we've done over many years shows that in the vast majority of cases it is people who never expected to be in the water," said Bedell.

Those cases can include falling from the boat, or a canoe or kayak capsizing. The drownings, he said, generally involve men who are not wearing life jackets or personal flotation devices.      

Most drownings are preventable if people wear life jackets or personal flotation devices. (Submitted by Barbara Byers)

So far this year in Nova Scotia, only one person has drowned while swimming. But there have been a number of drownings involving small open boats that overturned. In most cases, Bedell said, the people were not wearing life jackets.

In many cases, he said, the deaths would have been entirely preventable if people had just taken the time to put on their life jackets or personal floatation devices.

The majority of the men who drowned also had something else in common — they were over the age of 50, according to Barbara Byers, a director with the Lifesaving Society. Only two of the men who drowned this year were under 50. 

"They may have been a strong swimmer when they were young, they may have been physically fit when they were young, and many have a false sense of confidence that when they're older when they're swimming or when they're boating that they can take care of themselves," said Byers.

That's a fatal mistake. 

In one case this year a boat with three people in it capsized; two of the older men drowned while the younger man was able to get back to the boat and survive, said Byers. She said there's a trend of more older men drowning across the country     

The life jacket should fit correctly. (Submitted by Barbara Byers)

Data collected by the Red Cross says there are an average of 22 drownings a year in Nova Scotia. Both Bedell and Byers worry there's already been 10 this early in the year. 

"There's lots of summer still ahead of us and I really hope that people are aware," said Byers. "I don't mean to be a downer person; I think people aren't often thinking about safety. I think they're thinking about fun."

She said people need to be more respectful of the water and prepare themselves for what could happen. 

Both the Red Cross and the Lifesaving Society said people should wear a life jacket or personal flotation device while boating or if they are not a strong swimmer. Parents should keep young children within arms reach in the water, and people should not drink alcohol while boating or swimming.

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David Burke

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David Burke is a reporter in Halifax who covers everything from politics to science. His reports have been featured on The National, World Report and As it Happens, as well as the Information Morning shows in Halifax and Cape Breton.