Thinking water safety

Rhona Cruzpe, left, and Victoria Boyce frequent the unsupervised public beach at least twice a week.

People are being challenged this week to think about how they conduct themselves near the water.

National Drowning Prevention Week (NDPW) from July 21-27 is encouraging awareness of water safety and drowning prevention programs in communities across Canada.

Hay River teenagers Victoria Boyce and Rhona Cruzpe said drowning and water safety are things that people don’t think about too much.

On July 17, the two were getting ready to take an afternoon swim at the public beach on Great Slave Lake.

Frequenting the beach twice a week, the two said the subject of drowning isn’t something that often enters their minds. But, they tend to be naturally cautious.

I don’t go in too far, and I don’t go in alone” said Cruzpe. “I’m not a very strong swimmer, so I don’t go in further than I can stand.”

I think you have to be cautious everywhere you go, whether it’s a lake or a river, because anything can happen,” said Boyce.

As with most waterfronts in town, the public beach is not supervised and there are posted warnings to people that they are swimming at their own risk.

The Department of Transportation currently facilitates a drowning prevention or “water smart” program in communities across the territory. It includes holding drowning prevention courses once every three years.

The department released a statement this year to highlight the success of its drowning prevention program in 2011. In that year, there were no drowning fatalities.

But there is still room for improvement, said Cathy Menard, the chief coroner for the NWT.

There were 48 drownings over a 10-year period from 2001-2010 and one this year. Seven of those happened in the South Slave, and, overall, 15 were alcohol related.

Out of all of our accidental deaths, drowning took the highest percentage at 22 per cent,” said Menard. “Any time you have an accidental death, you look at how it was preventable.”

She thinks there is always room for more public education on water safety.

Of the drowning fatalities over the 10-year period, seven people died after falling through ice.