High water in Shuswap and surrounding lakes brings a unique set of hazards to Boating Safety Week beginning June 6.
Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue Station #106 station Chief Fred Banham said the water in Shuswap Lake is still too cold to swim in comfortably and there aren’t many houseboats on the lake yet, but other boaters are out in force. Banham said high water in rivers that feed into Shuswap Lake carry lots of debris.
Submerged logs and other floating hazards are most common near the mouths of rivers and where arms of the lake converge, like at Cinnemousun Narrows. Banham saidlogs which have recently fallen into the lake or were sucked down the river are often easy to avoid for boaters because they float on the surface of the water. Of greater concern, however, is the wooden debris that has been in the water long enough to become waterlogged, floating at or below the water’s surface.
According to a post on the RCMSAR station’s Facebook page, some boaters in the Blind Bay area recently removed a deadhead log that was floating vertically, creating a hidden hazard.
Banham said that as the lake level rises to the point that lakefront buildings have to be protected with sandbags, boaters should slow down and keep their wake small as a courtesy to property owners.
Along with the hazards of high lake levels, Boating Safety Week is a good time for boat owners to refresh their knowledge of other ways to stay safe on the water.
“The number one tip is to wear a life-jacket or personal flotation device every time you go out on the water,” said Erin Vieira, the Shuswap Watershed Council’s program manager.
“We sometimes think we’re immune to accidents, but we’re not. When an accident happens, your life-jacket buys you time to be rescued.”
Child-sized life-jackets are normally available to borrow free of charge at 14 locations around the Shuswap, but two of the loaner stations have been closed due to flooding.
“We want all children to be safe while boating or swimming in the lakes, and if a child needs a life-jacket they’re there to borrow. All we ask is they be returned for another child to use,” Banham said.
A sober captain is another important component of a safe boating trip. Vieira said boating under the influence is illegal and, according to the Canadian Red Cross, alcohol is a factor in 41 per cent of boating-related fatalities.
Vieira said many people have a common misconception about drowning which can be dangerous. Quoting a Canadian Red Cross poll, Vieira said half of parents believe they can supervise a child in the water by simply listening for signs of trouble.
“A lot of people don’t realize that drowning happens silently,” Vieira said.
“A swimmer in distress can’t call out for help, they are putting all their energy into staying afloat.”
According to the Red Cross, inadequate supervision is a factor in 75 per cent of drowning deaths for children under 10 years old.