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The importance of water safety - one Canadian Red Crosser's story

Guest post by Stephanie Murphy, Canadian Red Crosser

Every year, over 500 Canadians die in drowning-related incidents. Of these, over 90 per cent are men. Statistics, however, often mask the individual losses though and the enormous impact a drowning death can have on an entire family. Danika Crossman, boating safety program coordinator with the Canadian Red Cross, knows this loss first hand. In 2009, her uncle drowned while he was boating with his wife on Lake Okanagan in Kelowna, B.C. He was 41.

Originally from the East Coast, Danika’s uncle, Rob, and his wife had relocated to Kelowna. On the day he drowned, the two were out for a boat trip when Rob decided to go for a swim. Even though he wasn’t a strong swimmer, Rob had only a pool noodle in the water for support. A wave of panic overcame him while he was in the water, and despite his wife’s efforts to save him, Rob drowned.

Danika describes the loss as “devastating” for her family. Since the rest of her family lives on the East Coast, Danika’s aunt was the only person in Kelowna to deal with the aftermath. For Danika, it was the first time she had lost a family member. She had also just finished her first year at university and was living away from home for the first time.

Working in an area like the East Coast that has so many bodies of water, Danika says almost everyone has a connection to either a drowning victim or someone who had a close call. She hears so many stories about close calls, showing her how water safety really does affect everyone and how important Water safety is importanteducation and awareness are. Danika started out working with the boating safety program as a summer student, and she now runs the program. She thinks it’s “truly amazing” that she gets to focus on water safety for her career, working to raise awareness and decrease drowning deaths.

One of the key pieces of advice Danika wants people to remember is to be a water safety and boating safety advocate. “Although you might be wearing your PFD, make sure your friends and family are too. Take ownership and take responsibility. Advocate for everybody.”

It’s often difficult to foresee the risks in a casual boating trip, especially for those who have boating experience. The fact of the matter is though that nobody plans to fall overboard, nobody plans for an accident, that’s why they’re accidents.

Danika calls water “a powerful force.” It’s important to respect this when preparing for any activity that involves being in or near the water. In addition to wearing lifejackets or PFDs, boaters need to be aware of weather conditions and be prepared in case they change. Danika and her family know first hand the devastation that can result from a drowning death. Be aware, understand the risks and wear a PFD or lifejacket every time you’re on the water. As Danika puts it, “they float, you don’t.”

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