Preventable drownings increase across Island Health

A new report from the BC Coroners Service shows that 18 people died last year by accidental drowning in the Island Health region – three more people than the ten year average of 15. In Island Health, 82 per cent of drownings are among males.

According to the Accidental Drowning Deaths report, the most common causes of drowning were boating, swimming, and falling into the water. Drownings are more likely to occur on weekends and the likelihood of a drowning fatality more than doubles in July and August compared to the rest of the year. 

“The most risky time for accidental drownings is right now,” says medical health officer Dr. Murray Fyfe. “For statistical purposes they are termed accidental drownings, but they are preventable by being responsible and taking safety precautions when enjoying our local waters. Part of that involves avoiding alcohol and drug use.”

Alcohol and substance use are found to be contributing factors in 38 per cent of drowning deaths in B.C. In Canada, 65 per cent of boating incidents resulting in a death involve alcohol.

The Cowichan River had the fifth most drowning deaths at a B.C. river/creek between 2012 and 2022, with a total of six. The top four river/creeks in this same timeframe were the Fraser, Thompson, Columbia, and Similkameen.

“You can build multiple layers of protection,” says Dr. Fyfe, “Learn how to swim, wear a life jacket near and on water, install four-sided fencing with self-latching gates around backyard pools, supervise young children within arm’s reach, watch for currents and bad weather, and, if possible, swim in a lifeguard-supervised setting. All layers contribute to your safety.” 

The World Health Organization and United Nations recognize July 25 as World Drowning Prevention Day to raise awareness on drowning as a public health issue and remind people that anyone can drown, but no one should. 

To learn more about reducing injury and death visit Parachute's resources on drowning. To read the B.C. statistics related to accidental drownings download the Accidental Drowning Deaths, Coroners Service, 2012-2022.