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Drowning prevention: keeping safe when there's no lifeguard on duty

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National drowning prevention week has begun. In Quebec, lifeguards are in short supply, and swimming lessons can be hard to find.

At Dixie Pool in Lachine, swimmers of all ages gathered to improve their skills Monday -- Lindsay Burns has been a lifeguard there for six years, and says safety is top priority.

“As soon as they want to go into the deeper end they need to pass a swim test because that's how we make sure everybody stays safe.”

Staying safe in the water, and passing the swim test, is a lot easier if you can take swimming lessons, but getting into a class can be tricky.

“We have 265 kids who lessons every week,” she said. “It's never been this high.”

During the pandemic, many would-be lifeguards couldn’t get their certifications because of suspended courses.

At this stage, many pools are still playing catch up, and some have had to reduce their hours because they did not have enough lifeguards.

MOST DROWNINGS REPORTED IN RIVERS, LAKES

The province has already logged 31 reported drownings this year, and experts say each one was avoidable.

Quebec’s Lifesaving Society General Director Raynald Hawkins knows the statistics well.

“In Quebec, we have more drownings situation in rivers, close to 41 per cent, and 27 in lakes,” he said.

The Canadian Red Cross says boating is also an activity associated with drownings.

Hawkins says it’s easy to shrug off the risks associated with boating, but that falling in the water is unpredictable, and can leave people stunned and unable to swim.

In all cases, it’s best that people wear a life jacket.

“When you're on the water, wear your personal floatation device, your life-jacket,” he said.

If everyone wore one, he says, it would save 20 lives every year in Quebec, “and more than that for the rest of the country.”

As for keeping children safe, the Montreal Children’s Hospital published reminders for those watching over little ones near water.

Children should be supervised constantly while swimming. It can take just seconds for a child to get seriously injured, and it’s common that they won’t be able to call for help.

Parents and caregivers should ensure children are only swimming in places that match their swimming abilities. That means keeping an eye out for changing currents, deep water, and tendencies to drift away from shore.

People should also take care to limit open access to water, whether that be direct access to a pool on their property or a nearby lake.

Hawkins says it’s a good idea to always swim in a group, and to have a designated watcher when there isn’t a lifeguard on-site.

That means a family member or friend takes charge of scanning the water while others are swimming. Group members can rotate in and out of the role, just like a designated driver.

“Even one drowning is too much,” said Hawkins. “It's preventable.”

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