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Be water smart: Drowning is preventable

With summer in full swing, more British Columbians are heading to rivers, lakes and the ocean to cool down and relax. While water activities can be fun, they can come with a risk of drowning for those who aren’t prepared.
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Drowning can happen quickly and quietly. In recent years, 67 per cent of water-related deaths occur in the summer months in B.C.

“Unfortunately drowning deaths are likely to occur when we’re seeing the nicest weather in our province,” said Dr. Ian Pike, Director of the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit at BC Children’s Hospital.

Even surviving a near-drowning experience can have serious consequences. A person can suffer life-long effects such as brain damage, and an incident in which water has entered the lungs can cause complications – even death – up to three days following the incident. 

Drowning is preventable 

“Drowning deaths are always devastating because they happen unexpectedly to healthy individuals, and small children are at risk,” said Dr. David Evans, medical director, Trauma Services BC. “Parents need to be hyper vigilant when kids are around water.”

Using common sense is key in preventing drowning. “Adolescents and adults need to be smart about alcohol and other intoxicants around water,” adds Dr. Evans. He also recommends that wherever possible, parents ensure their children complete the swimming programs offered by the Red Cross. “The best investment is to become a strong swimmer.”

“Circumstances can change quite quickly when you’re spending a day on or near the water,” said Dr. Pike. “Remembering to actively supervise your kids, being mindful of changing conditions, and putting a PFD or lifejacket on weak swimmers of all ages can prevent drowning.” 

There are many ways to be water smart to keep you and your loved ones safe.

  • Build a 4-sided fence with a self-closing, self-latching gate to surround all pools.
  • Do not leave inflatable pools or buckets of water around – children can drown in only a few inches of water.
  • Make sure children are well supervised by responsible adults at all times in and around water. 
  • Enrol yourself and your child in swimming lessons.
  • Ensure everyone is wearing an approved personal flotation device (PFD) or lifejacket on a boat, and that weak swimmers, young or old, wear one when playing by the beach or the lake.
  • Learn CPR and/or lifesaving techniques.
  • Refrain from using alcohol before or during swimming or boating activities.

Quick facts:

  • In B.C., 92 per cent (PDF) of drowning deaths among children and youth happen because they lacked supervision
  • High-risk groups: children under five and men aged 18 to 49 
  • The greatest number of drowning deaths occur among males (78 per cent)
  • Drowning is the leading cause of death in B.C. for toddlers aged one to four, who tend to drown in bathtubs or swimming pools
  • Among the survivors of near-drowning, 20 per cent sustain permanent brain damage

Learn more:

The BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit, a province-wide partnership between the BC Centre for Disease Control at PHSA, BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute, and the Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia, is a leader in the production and transfer of injury prevention knowledge and the integration of evidence-based injury prevention practices in the daily lives of those at risk, those who care for them, and those with a mandate for public health and safety in British Columbia.

Trauma Services BC, a program of the Provincial Health Services Authority, is dedicated to ensuring all British Columbians have access to a high performing, comprehensive, integrated and inclusive provincial trauma system. For more information, visit:

The Provincial Health Services Authority plans, manages and evaluates selected specialty health care services across BC, working with the five regional health authorities, First Nations Health Authority and the Ministry of Health to deliver province-wide solutions that improve the health of British Columbians. For more information, visit or follow us @PHSAofBC.


For more information or to arrange an interview:

Samantha Bruin
BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit 

Provincial Health Services Authority media line: 778-867-7472
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