BC Hydro survey finds that most British Columbians overestimate their swimming abilities. (Photo courtesy of Jeanne Hasenmiller)

British Columbians overestimate their swimming abilities, survey finds

Thirty per cent of people polled by BC Hydro said they’ve had a near drowning experience

British Columbians are overconfident in their swimming abilities, which could be leading to an increase in swimming-related incidents, a new BC Hydro report suggests.

The survey, which polled 600 people, found that 85 per cent of British Columbians considered themselves experienced swimmers – despite most only going into the water a few times a year. Ten per cent of respondents said they’ve never completed a swimming lesson.

The survey also found that 30 per cent of people polled have had a near drowning experience, and another 53 per cent have witnessed a person in distress while in the water.

Unsafe behaviours are also cited as a reason for increase in water incidents. Almost half of respondents said they’ve gone into the water under the influence of alcohol or cannabis – a decision men are 30 per cent more likely to make than women.

The province sees an average of 76 drowning deaths per year, according the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit.

READ MORE: Good Samaritan recalls diving in to try to rescue young man who drowned at B.C. lake

Staying vigilant is especially important with children. Drowning is the second-most common cause of death for children under five years old in Canada. BC Hydro’s survey found that 40 per cent of parents said that they have been distracted when their children were in the water.

BC Hydro manages 19 recreation areas including parks and beaches near power-generating dam sites that draw two million visitors annually. More people are expected this year as vacationers stay near home due to the ongoing pandemic.

The report says 20 per cent of those surveyed admitted to swimming out of bounds. Men were 70 per cent more likely than women to venture into those areas.

“This is especially dangerous at BC Hydro’s recreation sites,” the report says. “Many of these sites are located on working reservoirs, meaning there are dam structures that can be dangerous if signage is not obeyed and distance is not maintained.”

BC Hydro offered some recommendations for people looking to visit their recreation sites over the summer. These include that people avoid that sense of security, to never leave children unsupervised and to understand the water situation before people get in, as well as never getting into the water while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

They also warned to always check the water temperature and to be conscious that water levels can change quickly at uncontrolled sites.

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