It sneaks up on ya, it does

Death, I mean.  By drowning.  We lost a few people out here again recently.  And a few more came pretty damn close. The poor British whale-watchers off Tofino, a few salmon fishermen near Campbell River and a guy off a 60 footer just a few miles from us.  I don’t know the numbers but more than a few people drowned in October in our local waters.

Bang!  One minute they were dry, the next they were in the water and feeling very, very alone.  It is unpleasant at the very least, panicking for most people and completely disabling for some. Keeping your wits about you is the first thing for survival but even that will only buy you a little time. If you don’t panic, you will immediately start to worry.  And with good reason.  Hard to swim fully clad. Distances to shore can be taxing.  Darkness doesn’t help.  And disorientation becomes a major factor as hypothermia sets in.

Hypothermia is the really big danger to face and it is always the winner if you engage with it too long. They say, being immersed for 20-25 minutes and it will begin to work at you and I am sure they are right but many bulky, well-clad types have managed a few hours so long as they could keep moving.  Regardless, getting out of the water doesn’t eliminate hypothermia but it at least increases your chances.  People on land still die of exposure from accidents of this kind.

We tend to ‘accept’ our environment as having danger but not really as being dangerous.   And it is. And being is different than having.  Being dangerous is like Black Widow spiders or an angry hippopotamus.  Or being surrounded by water.  The danger is always present even if it is not presenting in the moment.

But having danger is more like a gun.  Unloaded, locked away or dismantled, a gun no longer has the potential for danger.  You can neutralize it.  Deep, cold, moving water is simply always dangerous.  The drowning danger out here cannot ever be neutralized even with life jackets and the ever-ready coast guard.  People with life jackets drown all the time if they are left in the freezing water too long.

It is almost impossible to see that when you live with it every day.  Jump in the boat, get mail, see a friend, do a little beachcombing……all good.  But maybe just a half hour from disaster at any given moment.  And I have been there.  Got wet.  Got frightened a couple of times.

No one plans to fall in.

I suppose heavy urban traffic is much the same.  But, heavy traffic seems like the danger it is. It presents as ugly.  And we have measured that danger pretty accurately.  Over 30 000 people die from traffic accidents in the USA every year while Canada has about 2000 to 3000.  Traffic fatalities have killed more people than all the world wars put together. Traffic is an omnipresent danger, and we see that, we know that and yet, we tend to be accepting and unconscious of it most of the time.  We wouldn’t get around much if we looked at urban traffic as the danger it really is.

We are like that, too, about the water.  We see it as ‘occasionally’ dangerous, not omnipresent dangerous.  We are only really vigilant in bad weather or at night.  During the day, we are complacent.  And we are wrong.  More so than traffic watchers actually. Maybe because somehow the water seems more benign, less threatening.

We are proven wrong about that every year by losing some poor soul to the sea.  This year no exception.

8 thoughts on “It sneaks up on ya, it does

  1. Yes, complacency breeds the perfect environment for accidents.
    Your boats are the equivalent of a commutors car.
    I was driving to work this am . Dark, im sorta awake, and BOOM Hard brake! Collision avoided.
    Aa cyclist cuts in front of me. He was wearing blue jeans, a black jacket, a black touque, and black sneakers. Riding a dark colored bike….No lights, no reflectors.
    These idiots are a daily occurance. Im sure they feel they are perfectly safe but to the person driving a 4000lb vehicle……it was a near miss.
    Dont know the answer for the boats. Maybe a “dollar challenge”. Everytime you get caught without your “floater” on while boating ya gotta hand over a buck……doesnt save you from hypothermia but it will make it easier to find yer grumpy old cadaver………Personally I like the story of the crew member on the Titanic that, when all his duties were complete. Grabbed 2 bottles of rum from the bar , a lifejacket, a wool coat and jumped overboard. He then proceeded to get wasted. Some people in the lifeboats died of exposure. He survived.
    Put a flask of scotch in the lifejacket. Might as well toast the “event”


  2. Family friend found dead on the deck of his commercial fish boat! Not a mark on him. Young man with no physical problems, not a heart attack. May be a rogue wave, may be hypothermia still a mystery.


  3. It’s imsteresting you write this today. I get teased by all sorts for always wearing my life jacket. (“Still haven’t learned to swim, eh?” Was most recent.) We’re on a fairly protected lake, a big wind gets us a couple feet of chop. But that water is still cold, I can swim but don’t like my chances fully clothed. One of our boats has a shift lever that has poor detents by design so it is very easy to start in rev or for instead of neutral and the start idle is pretty high. Scary moments. Anyway, I always wear it. What’s the point of having it in the boat if it isn’t on? You can’t get it from the boat if you fall out!
    Then yesterday I was at our place on the water waiting for a barge delivery. The barge pulls in and none of the four guys are wearing life jackets, or PFDs or anything. And they are working. On this barge all the time. Complacency. It was a beautiful day, what could go wrong?


    • My life was once saved by NOT wearing one. I heard of a guy dying because his air bag deployed and broke his neck. Some cops won’t wear seat belts because they have seen accident victims virtually sliced in two. I, personally, don’t feel the need for a pfd because I am always near the shoreline and I can swim. BUT (really big BUT) the new life jackets are now slim and small and NOT anywhere near as awkward as they were. Things changed so I am going to change, too Had they remained like pillows, I would go without. But these are good. Time to change.


  4. Two stories about lifejackets.
    Kelowna a few summers ago an RCMP constable, by himself, slipped while stepping into his boat at the dock.. He was going out for the day to check for boating boozers, lifejackets ,etc.. Under he went. His utility belt, gun, boots everything dragged him down, nobody noticed and he drowned. Right next to the dock.15 ft of water.
    My uncle, cant swim a stroke. Out boating , flyfishing by himself. Was wearing a lifejacket because his wife insisted. He stood up to pee, out he went….with his boat putting slowly away.
    About an hour later another boater noticed his aimless boat and corraled it in. towed it and went back the way it had come from. Lucky, cause the tide was taking him out to sea….. He bought a kill switch and a cord attached to his wrist.


    • Like doctors trying to make sound investments, like accountants trying to do stand-up, like judges trying to stay sober, mounties should never attempt running boats. They are like rocks and water. Maybe being trained in Saskatchewan has something to do with it. Maybe it’s all the heavy gear or the sense of personal power in a medium that doesn’t acknowledge it….whatever…they can’t DO boats. And, if they can actually stay in the boat and steer it (miracle), they have no idea where they are. I have seen hapless people on boats. Lots of them. I have seen people with victim written on their forehead. But I have never seen a greater percentage of inept boaters than the micro segment that is the mounties. Keep ’em off the water and the statistics for drownings will be halved.


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