Stories & Features

8 myths around swimming and water safety

Image of father and son playing at the beach
Time spent at or near the water is what summer is all about. Just keep in mind that the numbers don't lie – 90% of drowning deaths occur within 30 feet of safety. So keep a close eye on the kids, and embrace the key rules around water safety.

What you need to know before heading to the beach, pool, or the boat

First, the sobering news. In recent years, about 300 people per year have drowned in lakes, pools, rivers, oceans and other waterways in Canada.

Now, the good news. The trend for many years in Canada is toward a decrease in water-related deaths, and it's clearly due to the work done by and other safety organizations in getting the word out around water safety.

At BC Hydro, we fully support safety messaging around water, especially in the summer months as thousands visit recreation areas at our reservoirs and waterways. Here, we take on some of the myths around swimming and water-related safety. Reading this could save your life, or the life a family member or friend.

Myth No. 1: You're safe when there are lots of people around

While it's not a good idea to swim alone, there's no real safety in numbers. Unsupervised kids drown in crowded pools, in part because drowning is often a silent act with no screaming or calls for help. And people of all ages can drown, sometimes because of crowded conditions where there's so much going on that no one notices someone has slipped beneath the surface. According to the Red Cross, 90% of drowning deaths occur within 30 feet of safety.

Myth No. 2: With water wings, the kids are alright

Water wings can provide a false sense of security to a young child, and to the parents who should be supervising them. They only provide buoyancy for the arms, and not the trunk and legs, which are heavier. Also, don't make the mistake of thinking that an adult or teen life jacket will work with a child. Get a life jacket that fits.

Myth No. 3: It's OK to drink and drive a boat

According to BOATsmart!, a Transport Canada boating educator, 65% of boating-related accidents in Canada involve alcohol consumption as a factor. For some reason, many people think they can take a summer holiday from the rules of drinking and driving. Operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Myth No. 4: You don't need a license to operate a boat

Anyone operating a motorized boat in Canada must hold a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC). The law applies to all boaters and all powered watercraft fitted with any size motor, even an electric trolling motor. More than 70% of boating incidents are due to operational errors, many of which could be avoided with proper training. Learn how to get your operator card at BOATsmart!.

Myth No. 5: Kids are safe in the wading pool or in the shallows

The Red Cross reports drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1-4 and the second leading cause of accidental death for children under 14. It's up to adults to take precautions with children around water, from the bathtub to the beach. Absence of adult supervision is a factor in most child drownings, including those in shallow water. It takes only seconds for a child to submerge, and in depths of even a couple feet in the ocean or in rivers, strong currents can drag kids (and adults) into open water.

Myth No. 6: Life jackets aren't necessary if you know how to swim

Life jackets don't do you any good if you're using them as a seat pad in a boat rather than wearing them. Proficient swimmers drown usually due to misjudgment or underwater injury, so a proper-fitting life jacket is the best defence.

Myth No. 7: If you eat, you need to wait 30 minutes before going swimming

While it's unlikely that you'll want to go for a vigorous swim on a full stomach, there's no evidence that it's unsafe to swim after eating. So enjoy that snack or meal and get back in the water when you feel comfortable.

Myth No. 8: Waterproof sunblock provides all-day protection

No sunscreen is so effective that it doesn't require reapplication every two hours, especially after swimming or lots of sweating. Studies have shown that waterproof sunscreens start to lose their effectiveness after 40 minutes in the water. Also don't believe the myths around getting a base tan to guard against the sun or being protected if you have dark skin. You still need sunblock, with frequent reapplications, to avoid the onset of skin cancer or premature aging.