Few boats were on Okanagan Lake on the cusp of the May long weekend, but police expect traffic on the water to increase—and have upped their ability to deal with issues on the water.
The RCMP have recently acquired their third Zodiac for patrolling the region’s largest lake and say they now have officers qualified to operate those vessels on every watch, or shift.
“We can put a boat on the water very quickly” in the event of an emergency, said Const. Steve Holmes.
However, police and Transport Canada officials hope they don’t have to deal with tragedy on the water this summer and, during a press conference Friday that kicked off National Safe Boating Awareness Week, urged boaters to use common sense and their safety equipment.
By this time last year, three people had already drowned on Kelowna area lakes and “we certainly don’t want to see any repeats of that this summer,” said Holmes.
Conditions on Okanagan Lake can deteriorate quite quickly, he noted.
“People need to be prepared and so they need to have the appropriate equipment, the most important being a personal flotation device, or a life jacket available for everyone in the boat.”
And even if you swim well, he notes you could hit your head falling out of a boat and may not be able to deal with being in the water in that state.
“Wearing a life jacket is pretty much going to guarantee that you’re going to stay afloat and you’re going to be rescued in a living condition,” he said. The only bodies, unfortunately, we’ve pulled from the water are those not wearing a life jacket.”
“Accidents can happen very quickly,” added Chris Marrie, boating safety officer with Transport Canada.
“This time of year the water’s very cold and if anybody finds themselves in the water, they have very little leeway to get back into the boat, unless they’re actually wearing a PFD.”
He says that alcohol accounts for “at least 40-50 per cent” of boating fatalities and urges caution with alcohol, noting that the sun and movement of the boat can heighten the effects of liquor.
“It’s not the same as sitting in a pub, watching the Canucks beat the San Jose Sharks,” he said.
He also urges boaters to brush up on the rules on the water before heading out for their first boating ride of the season.
For safe boating information, check out the websites www.boatingsafety.gc.ca and www.coldwaterkills.com.