“Dressing for the occasion” was just one facet of the public service message on water safety that Alberta RCMP issued last week.
The advisory encouraged people to wear life jackets or personal flotation devices (PFD) while out participating in water activities such as boating or tubing. They will help you keep your head above water, but if you tell yourself that you don’t need them because you’re such a good swimmer then you’re forgetting about the temperature of the water.
“Wearing a life jacket or PFD is the best defense for surviving cold-water shock and hypothermia,” the announcement stated, adding that a helmet is also wise headwear for many watersports.
The advisory serves as a reminder for the public to adhere to the rules of common sense when it comes to recreational activity on the province’s lakes and rivers.
“There's been a number of incidents with drownings that have occurred in the last 30 days,” said Sgt. Chris Mosley from the Devon RCMP detachment.
He added that water-based recreational activities have become more popular as a result of the pandemic. Since people have not been able to travel elsewhere, they have taken to having their vacations closer to home.
“In our dealings with Transport Canada, they have noted an increase in the purchase of boats and boating licenses. We have seen an increase in boater traffic on the water, which we believe is at least somewhat attributed to COVID. We have seen a lot of that: a lot of people taking advantage of the rivers and lakes in the area just for a chance to get out.”
The reminder also encouraged people to avoid impairment entirely. Operating a boat while under any influence of drugs or alcohol is not just unsafe but is also illegal and punishable under the Criminal Code.
People should also always check weather forecasts and reports as changing weather conditions can be extremely dangerous while on the water. Paying attention to the weather while out on the water is also a smart way to stay safe.
“Prepare for the sunshine or the rain, or really any range of weather that you might experience and be exposed to for several hours,” Mosley added.
Before going out, make sure to tell others about your plans including location and timeline so that you could be located quickly in case of an emergency. Boating in the middle of a lake can often mean that your cellphone service will be interrupted. Another important safety tip is to make use of satellite phones, walkie talkies or GPS devices.
Sgt. Mosley said that the Alberta RCMP wanted to make sure that all Albertans are mindful of the risk of injury, accidents and drownings. That includes making sure that your watercraft is equipped with mandatory boat safety equipment and that you always bring emergency supplies (including extra food, water and clothes).
Know your physical limits as well: many incidents of drowning have been a result of fatigue and being too far from shore.
“Public safety is a top priority for Alberta RCMP and water safety is a shared responsibility,” the advisory noted.
More water safety tips can be found on the Alberta RCMP’s YouTube channel.
Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh