As Shuswap Lake begins to fill up with boats, the Shuswap Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR) Station #106 is gearing up for the summer ahead and reminding everyone who uses the lake to stay safe on the water.
Station leader Rob Sutherland said there are a few less-known hazards especially present in the late spring and early summer. One such threat is hypothermia.
Although the May and June sun may be warm, Sutherland said the water is cold enough to be potentially dangerous to swimmers. According to Sutherland, the cold water, filled with recently-melted snow from the numerous streams that drain into Shuswap Lake, can render a swimmer’s muscles useless in a matter or minutes.
“All of a sudden you’re gone below the surface, it doesn’t take very long,” Sutherland said. “It takes a long time for that water to increase in temperature.”
Another boating hazard which is at its most serious this time of year is debris floating in the lake. Sutherland said as water levels rise, debris is pulled from river banks out into the lake. He added while keeping a lookout for debris in the water is important at all times, it is especially critical for boaters this time of year to keep an eye out for anything floating in the water that might damage their boats. Areas of the lake near river mouths are where boaters are most likely to encounter floating debris, Sutherland said.
This will be the first summer in operation for the marine search and rescue station’s new rescue boat. The larger, more powerful vessel is awaiting medical supplies provided by B.C. Ambulance that will allow it to transport seriously injured patients.
Sutherland said the marine rescue station’s volunteers have been training hard, learning how to operate the new boat or getting a refresher course on the old one, which will remain in service. They are also training with the station’s new search drone, which is equipped with thermal imaging to help with night-time searches.
“It’s a pretty impressive flying machine,” he said.
They also now have a small grapple capable of dropping a life jacket to a person in the water.
Fuel for the boats’ training missions is one of many costs incurred by the Station #106 – making the donations they receive from the public essential.
One of their major donors is the Waterway houseboat company; the company’s operations manager Colleen Anderson says the cost of the donation is worth the peace of mind having the marine search and rescue volunteers around brings.
“It’s great to have qualified trained people who know what they’re doing to go out and make sure that not just houseboats but everyone that’s on Shuswap Lake is properly taken care of in the event of an emergency,” she said.
Before the RCMSAR station opened, serious injuries on the water would be responded to by ordinary paramedics transported to the scene by Waterway’s service boat.
Waterway donates annually to the search and rescue station, this year’s donation was$12,500, an increased sum compared to previous years. Anderson says this reflects the higher operating cost, but also the greater capabilities of the station.
Sutherland said donations are crucial to paying for things such as fuel, repairs and maintenance for the station’s boats.
He said without support from Waterway and other major donors such as Shuswap Waterfront Marina who provide free moorage, parking and storage space for the RCMSAR station, they would have to do much more extensive fundraising in order to continue operating at their current level.
Anderson said the marine search and rescue station is an important part of the community and everyone who uses the lake should give generously to them.
“They are a totally impressive bunch and well respected over here. Everything we can do for them we do,” she said.
Anderson also praised the outreach work the station does when they aren’t on the water training, including the boat safety demonstrations they give to school children.
Station members recently visited Parkview Elementary and will also give demonstrations elsewhere in the Shuswap at South Broadview, Ranchero and Silver Creek Elementary schools.