Just because the outdoor swimming season has ended in Manitoba, that does not mean there is no longer a risk of drowning in our province. In fact, Lifesaving Society Manitoba says one-third of drownings occur between the colder months from October to April.
“Whether it’s ice fishing, snowmobiling, late season boating or late season trekking on the ice, we’re still seeing incidents happening every year and unfortunately those are deaths that we don’t want to see happen because one death is one too many,” notes spokesperson Dr. Christopher Love.
According to Dr. Love, if you fall into open water at this time of the year, it will still take approximately one hour before you go into hypothermia. He notes the bigger concern right now is cold shock. With cold shock, the cold water can cause a sudden gasp reflex, resulting in a victim swallowing water and then drowning.
“If you are not above the surface of the water when that cold shock reaction happens, then you are getting water into your airwaves, you are not able to breathe properly and the drowning process kicks in right away,” he explains. “Unfortunately, you can be deceased, become a fatality, become a statistic very, very quickly if you are below the water.”
He notes for that reason it is very important this time of year that you dress appropriately when you are on or near the water. Dr. Love says wearing a life jacket or personal floatation device is especially important because the extra weight from clothes you wear this time of year will only make it that much tougher to swim, should you fall into the water.
Dr. Love explains that if you wear something that floats, it can help to keep your head above water for those 60 seconds you need for your body to get used to the water, get over the cold shock and figure out your next move.
If you are planning on boating at this time of the year, Lifesaving Society Manitoba has a number of tips for ensuring that your trip is as safe as possible. Dr. Love urges boaters to check the forecast, noting the mix of warm and cold air can result in strong winds and waves, making it treacherous.
Dr. Love says communication is also vital and he encourages boaters to leave a float plan with someone on shore who can respond if they are overdue. He notes your cellphone should also be stored in a waterproof case.
Another suggestion is to carry small tools and parts to fix minor problems on the boat; noting the use of a fuel additive will prevent water in the fuel line from freezing.
And finally, Dr. Love says boaters should be wary of reduced water levels after a long and hot summer. Boaters should also watch for debris and chunks of ice that could penetrate a boat’s hull at high speed.