The Cowichan River can look deceptively docile for swimmers, boaters and tubers. (Gazette file)

Editorial: Lifejackets: it’s even more uncool to die

Few people outside of young children make use of a personal flotation device

Last week four tubers got stuck on the Puntledge River in Courtenay. It was a warning to anyone who’s thinking about getting out on the water this summer. Fortunately it was a warning with a happy ending.

This group of four went left when they should have gone right and found themselves in shallow, but fast-moving water. Only the toddler was wearing a lifejacket.

For anyone who sees people tubing down the Cowichan River, they know that few people outside of young children make use of a personal flotation device when they head out for an afternoon of fun, no matter their swimming skill level. For many people, when heading out on a boat, they’re even less likely to don a lifejacket. They seem to somehow think the boat is a little piece of land they are taking with them, and it will keep them safe. Of course, it’s not always so.

Every year usually brings at least one fatality on the river, and others who have near-misses.

So why do so many people skip the lifejacket? Do they overestimate their ability to swim? Underestimate the river and the chance of something unexpected happening? Not want to cover up the new bikini, or maybe those six-pack abs they’ve worked so hard for in the off-season? Is it just uncool?

Of course it’s even more uncool to die. Especially in a totally preventable tragedy.

Consider this before you make that decision to forgo the lifejacket: it doesn’t matter how well you can swim if you get dumped in the water (off your boat, or your tube, it doesn’t matter) and hit your head on a rock, or on debris, or a log and are knocked unconscious. Then, the only thing keeping you afloat, or not, is your lifejacket. It’s the difference between life and death.

On the Cowichan River, one can also be surprised by how strong the current is, with unexpected deep spots and hazards in some places, depending on how far one continues down the river. It’s easy to get tired when trying to swim against even a mild current, and suddenly your swimming prowess doesn’t seem quite as good as you counted on. This seems to have been key to the predicament in which the Puntledge River group found itself.

And it’s always a mistake to count on the other members of your group to step in and save you if you get into trouble. First, they may not be as deft in the water as you think they are. Second, they may be in trouble right next to you.

Getting out on the water is a lot of fun during the summer, and we certainly don’t aim to dissuade anyone. However, consider safety before you wade in. We don’t want to have to report a tragedy.

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