Boating tragedy preventable

Cautionary tales of young people acting foolishly, and paying the price with injury or death, seem to appear every year in Greater Victoria.

Cautionary tales of young people acting foolishly, and paying the price with injury or death, seem to appear every year in Greater Victoria.

Often this coincides with the first blazing hot weekend of the summer, usually at parks like Thetis Lake, where booze, bravado and rocky cliffs collide. Not so this year.

On Friday evening, two young men set out in a canoe from Telegraph Bay Cove for a weekend camping trip. From Ten Mile Point, Discovery and Chatham islands appear relatively close to shore, certainly easy paddling distance for fit young people.

It all went horribly wrong, very fast. After the canoe capsized, one young man suffered hypothermia but survived. The other remains missing.

We hope for his sake, and for his family and friends, that the young man has washed ashore alive somewhere.

This incident was completely preventable, but these young men seemed oblivious to the numerous dangers they put themselves in.

First, they set off at late twilight in a canoe, an unstable boat not designed for the rigors of the open ocean. Second, it may have been a calm evening, but they paddled into Baynes Channel, an area with strong currents that, according to a current table, would have started getting stronger soon after they hit the water.

It would have been more surprising if the canoe hadn’t tipped. The only upside to this scenario is they weren’t drinking.

Even if the men weren’t aware of the local ocean currents or the seaworthiness of their boat, it is genuinely shocking that they failed to wear life jackets, or even had any in the canoe. They had the forethought to pack a dry-bag of gear for camping, but not the most basic lifesaving element for the water.

We see this all the time in Victoria. People fish in rowboats or dinghies in lakes without personal floatation devices, never imagining a head trauma or some medical incident could render them or a companion unconscious and unable to swim. Add in a few beers and the odds get worse.

PFDs are even more crucial in the ocean off Victoria – the water is cold year-round. The young man who was found on the rocks off Oak Bay Friday night was hypothermic in less than two hours.

Anyone taking to the water this summer needs to take heed. The ocean is cruel and unforgiving to those who don’t respect basic safety rules.