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News release

Report: Drinking, marijuana and overconfidence could be increasing swimming-related accidents

VANCOUVER – A new BC Hydro report finds an increase in drowning or near-drowning incidents at its recreation sites may be tied to visitors overestimating their swimming abilities and engaging in risky behaviour in the water.

The report titled, "Risk and Recreation: British Columbians not prepared for the water as they think" [PDF, 393 KB] finds the two drownings at its Buntzen Lake recreation site were the first in over a decade.

With COVID-19 restrictions in place, a survey conducted on behalf of BC Hydro found about 70 per cent British Columbians are planning staycations or holidays within the province, and most will visit local lakes and rivers.

The survey also found many British Columbians overestimate their abilities. While 85 per cent rate themselves as experienced swimmers, most are only in the water a few times each summer. In addition, most British Columbians have not completed a formal swimming lesson in more than 10 years and an additional 10 per cent indicate they have never completed a single lesson.

This lack of experience and practice may be the reason why almost 30 per cent of British Columbians say they have had a near drowning experience and 53 per cent have witnessed another person in the water in distress.

It can also be attributed to the unsafe behaviours. For example:

  • Almost half confess to going in the water under the influence of alcohol or marijuana.
  • About 20 per cent admit to swimming in areas they were not supposed to be in.
  • More than 40 per cent of parents acknowledge being somewhat distracted when their children are in the water.
  • Many admit to not using personal floatation devices, including 24 per cent of boaters, 27 per cent of kayakers, 28 per cent of canoers and 58 per cent of tubers.

Despite all of this risky behaviour, only about half of British Columbians have had basic first aid training at some point in their lives.

When visiting BC Hydro recreation sites, BC Hydro recommends:

  • Never leaving children unsupervised while in or near the water. Children and non-swimmers should always wear a personal flotation device.
  • Watching for changes in the weather and checking the forecast before starting out on the water.
  • Providing an approved personal floatation device – even an inflatable model – for everyone in a boat or canoe.
  • Understanding many of the lakes in its recreation facilities are cold enough to cause serious harm. Cold water reduces body heat 25 times faster than air does at the same temperature.
  • Keeping out of the water if under the influence of drugs or alcohol – they affect judgement and reaction time.
  • Keeping outside of safety booms and buoys, and away from all dam structures.

For more information on BC Hydro recreation sites, visit

BC Hydro Media Relations
p. 604 928 6468