British Columbians overconfident about swimming abilities, survey suggests

BC Hydro says in a new report released in time for the B.C. Day long weekend that British Columbians aren’t as prepared for the water as they think.

The utility manages 19 recreation sites across the province — many with swimming areas — hosting about two million visitors each year.

“In 2018, there were two fatalities at Buntzen [Lake] — they were accidental drownings. They were very unfortunate, our condolences go out to the families,” said Susie Rieder, BC Hydro spokesperson. “We also had one near miss at Hayward Lake.”

Rieder said those were the only reported incidents in a decade, but many more close calls presumably went unreported.

“We don’t want any accidents to happen at any rec sites,” she said.

The survey carried out for the report found that 85 per cent of respondents consider themselves experienced swimmers, but 63 per cent swim only a few times each year.

A dive team searches Buntzen Lake for the body of a missing 19-year-old man from Surrey, B.C. (Yvette Brend)

The majority — 85 per cent — haven’t completed formal swimming lessons in more than 10 years, and 10 per cent said they’ve never completed a lesson.

Rieder, who said she has never taken a lesson, suggests that people without swimming experience wear a personal flotation device at all times near the water, and that everybody wear one when boating, including in canoes, kayaks, and even inflatable dinghies.

“When you do go swimming, when you do recreate on our reservoirs, at our rec sites, there are risks and there are steps you can take to mitigate those risks,” said Rieder.

The survey found:

  • 50 per cent of respondents had gone in the water after consuming drugs, including alcohol.
  • 20 per cent admitted to swimming in areas they knew they weren’t supposed to be in.
  • More than 40 per cent of parents acknowledged being somewhat distracted when their children were in the water.
  • Roughly a quarter of boaters, kayakers and people who canoe said they carried out the activity without a personal flotation device, and 58 per cent of tubers.

Rieder said to avoid tragedy in the water, don’t mix swimming and boating with drugs and alcohol, wear a personal flotation device, obey signs, and be honest with yourself about your abilities.

The survey was conducted by Majid Khoury through Ipsos Reid for BC Hydro of 601 British Columbians that swim, aged 18-65, from June 18 to 22, 2020. A comparable margin of error for this study is +/- 4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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