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‘Where there’s water, there’s risk’: How to stay safe on Calgary’s waterways

Click to play video: 'Water safety encouraged approaching hot weekend in Calgary' Water safety encouraged approaching hot weekend in Calgary
Advocates are encouraging Calgarians to be cautious and well prepared if they’re planning to head out on the waterways any time soon. Matthew Conrod has details. – Aug 14, 2020

With hot weather expected in Calgary and the surrounding area for the next week, advocates are urging people to be safe and be prepared if their plans include lakes or rivers.

Carol Henke, public information officer for the Calgary Fire Department, said they’ve seen plenty of people accessing Calgary’s waterways this summer, attributing it to the warm weather and to an increase in the number of people “staycationing” this year due to COVID-19.

“We’ve seen a lot of people using the rivers in different capacities — be it a kayak, canoe, floaties, paddleboards — and most people are following the rules. But there’s still room for improvement,” Henke said.

Read more: ‘Such a sweet boy’: Calgary mom grieves loss of son in drowning tragedy near Seebe Dam

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Moving water presents all sorts of hazards that may be below or just above the water, she said.

“We know that water conditions can change suddenly. We’ve had sudden thunderstorms that pop up … so conditions can change drastically in a short amount of time.

“Where there’s water, there’s risk. No activity on a river or on a lake is risk-free.”

Henke said people who are preparing for a day on the water need to plan their route, check river conditions and weather forecasts, see if any safety advisories are in effect and ensure they have the proper gear.

As for what kind of gear to bring with you, Henke suggests a properly fitted life jacket, whistle, bailing device, rope or towing line, and a paddle or oar.

“Dangers can pop up. They might not be visible from a distance, so you need to navigate around those.”

Click to play video: 'Volunteers continue search for young man swept away in Bow River west of Calgary' Volunteers continue search for young man swept away in Bow River west of Calgary
Volunteers continue search for young man swept away in Bow River west of Calgary – Aug 11, 2020

For more information on how to safely plan a day on the water in Calgary, Henke suggested visiting Calgary.ca/watersafety.

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For those planning to travel outside of Calgary, risks are arguably even higher.

Edward Van Heeren from Rocky Mountain Search and Rescue said people often don’t realize the time it takes to get to a site where an emergency situation is unfolding.

“It takes us time to get to these places,” Van Heeren said. “People don’t realize a lot of times it’s at least an hour for us to get to wherever they are.”

The most common mistakes Van Heeren sees are people who aren’t prepared, aren’t trained and aren’t wearing life-jackets.

“It doesn’t take long for a person to be overcome by the cold and not be able to self-rescue,” he said.

Alberta has experienced a number of drownings this summer, including an incident at Crescent Falls in west-central Alberta on Tuesday, which saw a husband and wife and the couple’s nephew drowned.

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