Healthy Living in the North

A family’s plan to prevent drowning

Family in a canoe

Paddling is a fun northern activity for so many families in our region! When you are on, in, or near the water, be sure to wear a life-jacket!

July 17-23, 2016 is National Drowning Prevention Week. Parachute Canada has some important information that really frames this topic for me:

Did you know?

  • Children under 18 are at greatest risk of drowning in rivers, lakes, and ponds.
  • Boys are more likely to drown than girls.
  • Drowning can happen in an instant.

I want to encourage everyone to have a safe summer, but I know that talking to parents about safety can be tricky. It only takes media coverage of one injured child to spark all sorts of harsh judgements and criticisms of parents. Sometimes I wonder if what I write about childhood safety will be viewed as a criticism of things parents aren’t doing. I certainly hope not.

You see, I am also a parent of young children. I am not perfect, not even close. We have “close calls” or times when I feel we have come far too close to one of my children experiencing a preventable injury. Every day, I wonder if I am enough for my children. What I can tell you is that when I parent without support or help, I am in fact setting myself up for failure. No single person is meant to be enough or everything for our children. There is a reason we say “it takes a community.” It really does!

When it comes to water safety, the same is true. No single plan is enough.

Water injuries are predictable. There are many ways to reduce the risk of drowning.

  • Children need to swim within arms’ reach. Drowning is often silent. When kids get into trouble, they do not call, wave or signal; all of their energy is used just keeping their head above water. Visit the Lifesaving Society (BC & Yukon Branch) for more information.
  • Actively supervise all children around water. According to the Red Cross, the absence of effective adult supervision is a factor in 75 per cent of deaths by drowning for children under the age of 10. An older sibling is no substitute for parent supervision.
  • Wear a properly fitted life-jacket every single time kids are on a boat. Young children and weak swimmers should wear a life-jacket on, near, or in the water. Want to learn how to properly fit a life-jacket? has you covered with great video tutorials!
  • Learn to swim. Learning to swim and play safely around water is a life skill in Canada. Enrol in swim lessons at the local pool.

This isn’t a menu of options, where you just pick one. These are multiple ways to protect children and prevent drowning that can all be used together. Even though I may teach my child to ask permission to enter the lake every time, there will always be the one time it gets forgotten. I will blink, look away, and get distracted countless times. Relying on many strategies or supports is not a sign of weakness, it is responsible parenting. And it drastically decreases the risks of incident for my children.

So, parents, you do not have to do it alone! Use whatever resources are available to make sure that water play is safe play!

Want a new tool to add to your water safety plan? Enter our Facebook contest for your chance to win a life-jacket!

Amy Da Costa

About Amy Da Costa

Amy Da Costa has worked in Public Health for 12 years. She recently joined the Population Health team as a part-time Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention. Amy lives in Kitimat with her husband and two children. They like to camp, swim, and cook as a family.


Be “reel” safe! Here fishy, fishy, fishy!

Boy holding two large fish

Make great family memories this weekend with a safe and fun trip to the lake!

Winter feels like a distant memory! Lakes are open, bulbs are blooming, and everything looks so green! For those who love the outdoors, there are an abundance of aquatic activities available to enjoy, from boating to swimming and kayaking to fishing!

Northern British Columbia, with its rugged landscape and pristine wilderness, provides exceptional fishing ground! There are thousands of lakes, streams and tidal waters to fish – whether for fun or for fresh food!

With all the excitement of warmer temperatures and the thrill that comes with a weekend of outdoor fun, it is important to remember to stay safe so that you can get back out there and continue to enjoy the beautiful weather, lakes and streams.

Did you know?

  • Drownings are most likely to occur in natural bodies of water such as rivers and lakes.
  • The majority of these drownings occur on weekends from May to August. 
  • The highest proportion of incidents occur during recreational activity, most commonly swimming, fishing or boating.
  • In B.C., water-related fatality rates are highest among men and young adults.
  • 90% of boating drownings can be prevented by wearing a life-jacket or personal flotation device (PFD).
Young girl fishing off of a boat

Don’t forget to pack your life-jackets and remember to “have a word with yourself” before heading to the lake. Following a few safety tips can keep you and your family smiling and safe!

Getting out to the lake makes for great summer memories! Make sure to have a safe and fun time on and near the water by following these safety tips:

  • Boat and swim sober.
  • Ensure everyone wears a life-jacket or PFD.
  • Ensure all children under age six wear life-jackets when in, on, or around water.
  • Learn how to swim and take a first aid and CPR course.

For all you fishermen, women, and children out there, and for everyone enjoying your time on or near the water, have a safe and fun time! In the words of, remember to “have a word with yourself” and don’t forget to pack your life-jackets.

This article was originally published in the May 2015 issue of Northern Health’s A Healthier You magazine.


Shellie O'Brien

About Shellie O'Brien

Shellie grew up in rural Newfoundland and moved to B.C. in 2003. After graduating from the nursing program at Thompson Rivers University in 2007 she moved to Prince George to start her career. She has a passion for population and public health and is the Regional Lead for Sexual and Reproductive Health. After falling in love with the north she purchased a rural property and began to build her hobby farm and family. She enjoys the outdoors, animals, recreational dogsledding, reading, and healthy living. When not at work, she can be found happily doing something outside on her farm with her family.