In hot, humid Southwestern Ontario, one of the best ways to beat the heat is by taking a quick dip.But heading into the dog days of summer when water activities are most popular, the Lifesaving Society is making a splash by releasing some sobering new statistics on drowning in Canada.After years of steady decline, the annual drowning toll is on the rise, with 2005 data – the newest available – showing 492 Canadians lost their lives in the water that year, up from 433 the year before. This news is especially startling considering next week, July 18-25, is National Drowning Prevention Week.Drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death for those under age 60 and the second leading cause of death for children under age 10. Men between the ages of 18 and 34 have an even higher risk, often losing their lives in boating accidents due to a lethal combination of alcohol and failure to wear a personal floatation device (PFD) or life jacket. So what do we do to keep our families safe and prevent tragedy? Education is key. But that too is something the Lifesaving Society says is lacking in Ontario. The organization recently released a report card that gave residents a ‘C' grade for their water safety knowledge. Many parents think inflatable devices such as water wings, toys or tubes will keep their children safe in the water, which couldn't be further from the truth. Unlike an approved life jacket, inflatable devices do not allow a child to turn right side up in the water, allowing them to breath.Over 60 per cent of those surveyed acknowledged drowning is a silent killer, but 32 per cent believed someone who is drowning will wave their arms or splash around. But drowning is quiet and quick – often occurring in under 10 seconds – which is why adults need to be within two feet of a child under age five when in, or near, water. There were two questions on the test respondents passed with flying colours. Eighty per cent said they had enrolled their child in formal swimming lessons and 82 per cent agreed the best method of restricting access to a backyard swimming pool is by a four-sided fence. But what about bath tubs or wading pools? It is important to remember people have drowned in three centimetres of water and an unattended kiddie pool can be inticing to any child, especially those too young to realize the risk.These facts may be startling but shouldn't dissuade us from spending a weekend at the lake, or a day at the beach or an afternoon by the pool. Instead, we need to take the steps to ensure our own safety – don't drink and swim or drink and boat, make sure children have successfully completed swimming lessons and keep an eye on friends when in the water, whether they are young or old.Wear a PFD if you're not a strong swimmer and don't worry about the tan lines. We need to make sure we arm ourselves with information before we dive in. -T.S.
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