‘Drowning Can Be Prevented’, This Elgin County Coalition Is Working To Close The Water Safety Gap

Eminetra Canada


With a shortage of lifeguards and a pandemic limiting swimming lessons, a new drowning prevention group in Ontario is trying to educate beach-headers about water safety.

Briar McCaw and MaryKate Townsend worked with organizations in Southwestern Ontario to start the Elgin County Drowning Prevention Coalition after noticing a knowledge gap in water safety.

They partnered with local organizations to launch the Elgin County Drowning Prevention Coalition to strengthen water education for children, seniors, those facing language barriers and migrant farm workers.

Two people who live and work on water in Elgin County educate those most at risk of drowning, including children, the elderly, those facing language barriers and migrant farm workers. I wanted to do something that would help.

McCaw, who has taught swimming in Elgin County for five years and is a lifeguard in Port Stanley, said, “People don’t always realize that open water is much different than a backyard pool.

Lifeguard and swim instructor Briar McCaw is part of a duo leading a coalition to advance knowledge about water safety in Elgin County. (submitted by Briar McCaw)

According to the Lifesaving Society, 51 people have drowned in Ontario this year.

In June a 24-year-old agricultural migrant worker from Guatemala died in hospital. chance of drowning on Lake Erie.

we were able to bring that number [of drownings] If people behave safely by water, it will be close to zero.– Barbara Byers, Lifesaving Society

McCaw said he often sees people struggling to swim too far on the beach or children going out of reach of their parents. Knowing how to swim is not enough, she said, but water safety should also include knowing pool and beach rules and boat safety.

“These are not new messages. It’s a matter of being clear about distributing them,” said Townsend, who also underwrites boat insurance.

“We’re really just trying to focus on our backyard, and that’s where we want to make the biggest difference.”

Coalition member Mary-Kate Townsend says water safety extends beyond lakes to pools and bathtubs and wants more education to protect vulnerable groups. (submitted by MaryKate Townsend)

Townsend hopes to see more data on drowning incidents in Elgin County, which has nearly 100 kilometers of coastline, to help identify gaps in water safety knowledge within the community.

She believes collecting that data will help identify target groups most at risk and what can be done, such as creating signage in different languages.

Townsend hopes to learn from a similar coalition in Ontario and expand to other regions.

A lifeguard holds a swim buoy overlooking Breton Beach in Lac Philippe, Quebec in June. One of the organizers of Ontario’s new Drowning Prevention Coalition says the general shortage of lifeguards has not helped efforts to make water safer. (Michelle Aspiro/CBC)

“Almost all drownings are preventable,” said Barbara Byers, a senior researcher at the Lifesaving Association.

Risk factors include being weak or unable to swim, not wearing a float, swimming alone, or consuming alcohol, according to the Life Saving Society’s 2020 drowning report. .

“Recognizing the danger of drowning and ensuring the skills, training, and concentration to practice safe behavior is within the public’s control,” she said.

“If we did, our numbers could be very, very, very low.”

‘Drowning Can Be Prevented’, This Elgin County Coalition Is Working To Close The Water Safety Gap

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