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From whale tanks to reservoirs, water safety's a priority

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Posted by Jennifer Maniezzo

Water frightens me in much the same way that heights or spiders affect other people. There's something about that muffled, echoing sound when your head is submerged that not only reminds me of the character Jesse slipping and falling into the whale tank in Free Willy, but also makes my chest tighten.

But the rational side of me knows that there's no need to be scared as long as you're prepared.

This summer BC Hydro has partnered with Preventable (a B.C. organization that is focused on changing behaviours and attitudes towards preventable injuries) and the Canadian Red Cross to make the public aware of the dangers associated with water. Many of the BC Hydro recreational areas are located on working reservoirs and, while we encourage everyone to take advantage of them, we also want to make sure that people are doing so safely.

The message: "You're probably not expecting to drown today" is displayed on beach towels at Outreach events reminding people to take care when cooling off. While you'd probably rather not think about these chilling words when you're enjoying your day at the beach, not thinking about water safety is a contributing factor to the number of drowning deaths that occur each year.

In B.C., that number amounts to on average 60 preventable deaths each year.

Much like conservation, where we encourage people to undertake small behavioural changes to help reduce their electricity consumption, the way to reduce serious injuries in the water is to adjust behaviours by thinking before you act.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before you hit the beach, or for that matter, whenever you're around a pool or water:

  • Keep Alert – Is there a lifeguard on duty? Is the water choppy? Are there signs highlighting safety precautions? Evaluate your surroundings to ensure that you see the potential hazards before you get in the water. If an emergency occurs, call 911.
  • Don't Swim Alone – Half of all children who drown are alone and unsupervised by an adult. Children should not be left unattended when in the water. There's safety in numbers and this goes for adults too. Adults should make sure they also have a swimming buddy.
  • Don a life jacket – Life jackets or personal flotation devices are not just for when you're on a boat. Children and people who are unable to swim strongly should wear one when playing in the water. Make sure a sound signalling device, like a whistle, is attached to the jacket.
  • Avoid alcohol as your water party mix – You wouldn't drink and drive a car so why would you drink and drive a boat or why would you drink and swim? Alcohol affects your ability to function in three critical ways. Your balance, judgment and reaction time are affected almost immediately with the first drink.

Statistics show that two-thirds of people who have drowned never intended to go in the water. Plan ahead so that your day at the beach doesn't end with you becoming another statistic.

For a more comprehensive list of water safety tips, please visit the Canadian Red Cross website.

Jennifer Maniezzo is part of BC Hydro's media relations team.