David Banerjee got a big lesson in water safety when he was seven. On his first canoe trip with his father in Muskoka, ON, the canoe capsized, tossing both of them into deep water. “I dog-paddled towards shore, and I assumed that my father knew how to swim because he was, after all, my father, and capable of anything,” says Banerjee, a Toronto teacher. “But my father had never had the opportunity to learn to swim properly.”
Fortunately, his dad was wearing a lifejacket, albeit an old one that barely supported his weight. Through sheer luck and the help of passing boaters, the pair was rescued.
“To the best of my knowledge, my father has never set foot in a canoe since,” says Banerjee.
Accidents like that occur all the time -- sometimes with dire outcomes. Each year, more than 160 Canadians drown while boating, according to the Red Cross. But, as in this case, the simple act of wearing a lifejacket can help prevent a tragedy -- as can a change in attitudes, says Shannon Scully-Pratt, water safety program representative at the Red Cross in Central Ontario. To begin with, she says, adults need to apply rules they enforce with their children to themselves. That means wearing lifejackets or personal flotation devices (PFDs) when boating or using pleasure craft. Taking steps to be safe in the heat through careful food storage and not taking chances in overheated vehicles are other ways to reduce risk.
Be safe around water
- Teach kids about water safety. “Have your child ask permission to go in or near the water,” says Scully-Pratt. “Or tell children they can only go in if an adult is around. Guide them to make wise water decisions.”
- Protect kids around water. Popping water wings on young children and heading off to relax on the cottage deck isn’t a good idea, says Scully-Pratt. Instead, have your child don a lifejacket or PFD if playing alongside or heading into the water. She suggests choosing red, yellow or orange personal flotation devices for young kids so that if they do fall into the water, they can be seen easily. And always keep within arm’s reach of a child near water.
- Know the water. Water conditions can change year to year. Even if you think you’re familiar with the lake at your cottage, always check it first to ensure that water levels haven’t dropped, rocks haven’t been dislodged or debris such as fallen trees hasn’t appeared suddenly below the surface.
- When boating, take precautions. Always have one lifejacket for every person in the boat, says Scully-Pratt -- it’s the law. And be aware of weather changes. At the first sign of a looming storm, head for the shore directly. “Don’t wait until the storm hits,” she says, when getting to land safely may become difficult. As well, make others aware of your destination if you’re heading off in a boat. “Letting someone know where you’re going and how long you’ll be out can help to narrow down the possibilities, should the unpredictable occur,” says Lewis Smith, communications and media program co-ordinator at the Canada Safety Council in Ottawa.
Keep the heat at bay
- Don’t leave kids or pets alone in your car. “Often, people are aware that cars can heat up quickly, but what they fail to realize is exactly how quickly that can happen,” says Smith. For example, the Canada Safety Council says that on a day of 35°C, a car exposed to the sun can hit temperatures as high as 50° C within 20 minutes. Smith says parents should never leave anyone in the car, even if they’re dashing into the corner store. Three minutes can easily become 20 minutes.
- Protect your food. If you’re planning a picnic, hike or outdoor meal, ensure that your food is kept as cool as possible, or consumed quickly. Illness-causing bacteria such as salmonella can flourish when temperatures rise, so make sure to store meat or dairy-containing foods in coolers, insulated bags or on ice, or eat them quickly. (Find out more about summer food safety from Health Canada)
- Don’t ignore the sun. While sunburn can be a big concern -- especially for your kids -- heat stroke can be even more deadly. A condition brought on by high temperatures and too much sun exposure, it can cause nausea, dizziness, extreme thirst and headache, or worse. Wear a hat, stay in the shade as much as possible, drink lots of water and head to a cool place like a pool, mall or library if you don’t have air conditioning at home.