Two search boats patrol off Sunbreaker Cove on Sylvan Lake Tuesday afternoon looking for a 43-year-old man, who was missing after the boat he was riding in capsized, before his body was discovered Saturday morning. (File photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff)

Drowning deaths on the rise in Alberta

Two victims in Central Alberta were not wearing lifejackets.

Following two recent water-related deaths in Central Alberta, swimmers and boaters are being urged to stay safe in the water.

A 57-year-old woman drowned in Gull Lake on Aug. 12 after the inflatable dinghy she was on capsized and a 43-year-old man’s body was recovered on Saturday, about a week after the boat he was riding in capsized on Sylvan Lake.

So far in 2017, there have been 21 media-reported drowning deaths in Alberta, up from the 14 drownings last year, according to the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories.

“It’s really unfortunate we’ve had an increase in the number of drownings. I don’t know if there’s any real rhyme or reason as to why,” said Mandy Fisher, development and operations manager for the Lifesaving Society of Alberta and Northwest Territories.

In both recent incidents in Central Alberta, the victims weren’t wearing lifejackets.

A lifejacket “won’t work if you don’t wear it,” she said. “By having a properly fitted lifejacket on, you can significantly increase your chances of survival.”

By law, boaters are required to have lifejackets in the boat with them, but aren’t required to wear them. Putting on the jacket is an easy way to keep yourself safe, Fisher said.

Making sure you stay sober when heading out on the water is important too, she added. Alcohol plays a part in almost 40 per cent of boating-related fatalities and in one out of three drowning deaths, the casualty had consumed alcohol.

In the case of the 57-year-old woman, Blackfalds RCMP said she was not a strong swimmer.

“We recommend all people learn to swim – it’s a life skill all people should have,” said Fisher.

Sixteen of the 21 drownings in the province this year have happened since June 1, as the summer is the busiest time for water-related deaths.

The total number of drownings has been going down over the past decade and Fisher said she hopes this year is more of an outlier than a trend.

“Having a profound respect for the water is important because conditions can change very quickly in Alberta and the water can be quite cold and deep,” she said.

Fisher also said parents need to make sure children receive constant and focused supervision when they are in the water.

“You have to put your phone down, designate someone to be the lifeguard or watcher for the children in the water to make sure they are safe,” she said.

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