There's a heat wave coming this week, which means many Quebecers will take to the waters to cool off.

As the swimming season begins, the Quebec Lifesaving Society is remindin the public about drowning prevention.

"When there are heat waves coming up, people want to be near, on and in the water, which increases the likelihood of perhaps more incidents," said executive director Raynald Hawkins.

Local pools have yet to open in many municipalities, meaning citizens will likely turn to residential pools and natural bodies of water to cool off.

In Montreal, several public pools open their doors around June 17.

"It's even more important, in hot weather, to make sure that the residential pool is really inaccessible [even] if you haven't opened it for swimming," Hawkins explained. "It's essential to make your pool safe for your neighbors, as well as for the people who live in your home."

The majority of child drownings, "and even among the elderly," occur when the victims have direct access to the body of water, he noted.

"If your pool is open for swimming, then you need to ensure that a designated lifeguard, who has no duties other than watching over bathers, is present at all times. There's no question of watching out of the corner of your eye while gardening or reading a book," Hawkins said.

It's also important not to swim alone.

"Fifty per cent of our drowning victims in Quebec in recent years -- and this is even more true with the pandemic -- people were alone. It doesn't matter the age, it doesn't matter the activity," Hawkins said.

This is especially true when there's a current.

"The majority of drownings occur in open water," said Hawkins, advising anyone doing water sports to wear a flotation jacket.

"Just because it's very hot in a convertible doesn't mean I don't buckle up in the car," he said, asserting that heat is not a good excuse to ditch the life jacket.


It's still too early to say whether municipal pools will have enough lifeguards when they open.

According to Hawkins, word on the street is that "lifeguards who were there last year are coming back this year, which may reassure employers."

But they still have to be there when the pool opens, he stressed.

"We estimate that there is a shortage of 2,000 to 3,000 lifeguards across Quebec, depending on the type of water body, which is why it is so important to continue the free training program."

Lifeguard training has been offered free of charge since last fall.

From January to March 2023, the Lifesaving Society recorded a 40 per cent increase in course registrations, but this doesn't guarantee that all aspiring lifeguards will actually work in the field, Hawkins cautions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 28, 2023.