Members of Penticton and District Search and Rescue combed an area of Okanagan Lake near Naramata in October looking for the body of a man who fell overboard. It's the last drowning near Penticton to which the group has responded.

Coroners sound alarm about drownings

Special efforts should be made to educate young men about drowning prevention

Special efforts should be made to educate young men about drowning prevention, a B.C. Coroners Service review panel recommended following a special investigation.

Experts probed the deaths of 35 young people who drowned between 2007-2013 and found that nearly three-quarters of the victims were males between 15-19 years in age. A third of the cases involved drugs or alcohol.

“In order to address the risk of drowning in B.C., it is essential that water safety and drowning prevention messaging target parents and male youth specifically,” concluded the report, which recommended several agencies work together on the project.

One of the agencies mentioned, the B.C.-Yukon branch of the Lifesaving Society, is in the early stages of developing a plan to act on the recommendation.

“Certainly there have been other campaigns that have been successful, such as (against) drinking and driving, so I think we can take lessons from other campaigns to see what’s going to work for drowning prevention,” said Dale Miller, the society’s executive director.

Miller said the heightened drowning risk for young men was already well known and is due to a combination of factors.

“It’s an overestimation of their swimming abilities, it’s an underestimation of the risk that they’re taking, and you combine that with alcohol in many situations, and, unfortunately, that’s a dangerous mix,” he explained.

“There’s definitely a need to look at how we can get to them and hopefully change their behaviours.”

The society recorded 11 drowning deaths in B.C. through May and June, down from an average of 16 during that same period in each of the past four years.

Penticton and District Search and Rescue spokesman Randy Brown said his group has yet to respond to a nearby drowning during this year’s outdoor recreation season.

“This year it has been kind of down, because the weather hasn’t been all that good,” he said.

The team did, however, travel to Princeton to help recover the body of a 23-year-old man who drowned in the Similkameen River in mid-June. Brown reminded people to look after the little details surrounding their personal safety while on the water.

“Our message is to make sure everybody has a personal floatation device. The other thing is to make sure they have a heaving line so if somebody’s in distress they have some way of throwing a rope out to the them,” he said.

“We’re always prepared to go out and assist,” Brown added, “but we get called a lot of times when events turn tragic.”

The coroners’ review also recommended municipalities adopt uniform rules to require homeowners to install four-sided fencing around pools “to prevent young children from gaining access to backyard pools, the place where they are most at risk.”