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Staying Safe – A Perspective from the BC RCMP Underwater Recovery Team

Fraser Valley – The warmer summer weather has people seeing out spaces outdoors for camping and water activities. Despite the pandemic, this year has been no different. The BC RCMP wants to remind everyone to take necessary safety precautions to reduce the number of tragedies around the waters in our province.

RCMP Underwater Recovery Team

Whether a result of individuals not paying attention to their surrounding areas, not wearing lifesaving devices, unsure of their swimming abilities, or unaware of the water conditions, the BC RCMP sees a rise in the number of drownings during summer months.

The Underwater Recovery Team (URT), which conducts investigations throughout BC, has seen an increase in drownings in recent months and these calls have included complex recoveries from areas of the province that URT does not often attend.

It is thought that people are travelling further into the wilderness given that many of the usual recreational areas have been closed, said Sergeant Steven Pebernat, Underwater Recovery Team Diving Coordinator. What we are seeing a lot of this year in particular, is individuals who are not familiar with BC’s waters getting themselves into precarious and consequential situations by not taking safety precautions and not being informed of the water conditions or their abilities.

What is unfortunate is every year many of these deaths are preventable.

During the summer months, we continue to see higher numbers of drowning deaths compared to what we see in the fall, winter, and spring, given the reality that more people go to our lakes, rivers, and oceans when the weather is warmer, said Andy Watson, manager of strategic communications with the BC Coroners Service. The one positive sign is that we have not seen an increase as our death totals are comparable to historical years. We will continue to share our data on suspected accidental drowning deaths with partners in the hopes that we can bring those numbers down.

The URT also has seen a steady increase of new Canadians or foreign nationals that have passed away in BC’s waters.

The URT would like to remind people that the water in British Columbia can be cold, and many creeks and rivers have strong currents, which is why it is important to always research and plan ahead, let someone know where you are going, and bring necessary equipment to navigate BC waters.

Some helpful reminders to help you stay safe this summer:

  • Always swim with a buddy. And play and swim in areas supervised by a lifeguard.
  • Don’t leave children unsupervised. Drowning can occur in as little as 10 seconds.
  • If you can’t swim, wear a lifejacket or PFD at all times.
  • Stay alert! Observe the conditions closely before you step out onto the shoreline and keep an eye on incoming waves.

For more safety tips please visit the Lifesaving Society of BC.

For more information on the Underwater Recovery Team (URT):

The team dates back to April 1977 and evolved out of an ever increasing demand for underwater support in the searching for and recovery of evidence or individuals. There are Underwater Recovery Teams established in all Districts throughout the Province.

Photo of URT diver.
RCMP Underwater Recovery Team

When is URT called?

When there is a serious incident that has or is taking place in a marine environment, URT is called in to assist. The on-call diver will make the decision whether to deploy or not, given the circumstances and nature of request.

The Underwater Recovery Team can assist with:

  • Vehicle and Aircraft recovery in water
  • River, waterfall and swift water searches
  • SCUBA diving fatality investigations
  • Ship hull and pier searches for drugs or explosives
  • Missing person’s investigations
  • Collection of evidence in marine accidents, boat collisions, ditches and slough searches
  • Provide underwater still photography and video footage of crime and accident scenes
  • Conduct underwater sonar and Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) searches
  • Subject matter expertise for water related deaths and investigations
  • Explosives recognition and post blast investigations

The Underwater Recovery Team uses a variety of equipment to aid them in the search and recovery of evidence including:

  • Underwater video and still photography equipment
  • Underwater Sonar – Scanning and real time imaging; which can be deployed to search under water without deploying divers
  • Underwater Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) for searching beyond divers operational depth
  • Metal detectors for search underwater or shoreline

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