We are river-rescue and ice-rescue instructors, operate a rafting company and are members of the American Whitewater Association. Every year we receive from AWA what I call the grim report, a summary of the year fatalities.
Accidents like the fatality of Const. Michael Potvin are usually caused by a series of mistakes. Had a professional checked the boat and motor, it would not have happened. Had the boat and motor been checked on a lake, it would not have happened.
Then there is plan B. In rafting, we know that it is a matter of time before we fall in, so wear a life-jacket.
Too many times, I have read the same story: “He was swimming for shore strongly, then he disappeared; he was not wearing a life-jacket.” It is often the same exact words. During the last few years, how many drowning victims have been found in Yukon without a life-jacket?
There is a bit of anti-life-jacket culture out there. You hear people say that if you fall in you are gone anyways, but it is not true. Plan B is wearing your seatbelt; plan B is putting your helmet on. It does not mean that because you wear a seatbelt or helmet that you will never die in an accident, but it substantially increases your chances of survival. Plan B is the law in many cases.
The type of life-jacket you wear also makes a difference. Some approved life-jackets, like floating suits, are dangerous on rivers. Water is trapped in the sleeve and legs, which greatly impedes your swimming abilities. I tested some of the RCMP-issued inflatable life-vests and they are not suitable for rivers.
A good vest has a minimum of seven kilograms (15.5 pounds) flotation. You see people wearing a comfortable vest away from the water; people take off an uncomfortable vest right away when coming to shore and are reluctant to wear one in a boat. A good vest will allow for swimming mobility, which is extremely important on rivers. There are many excellent life-jackets on the market, comfortable, colourful, with pockets; there is no good reason not to wear one.
Some agency buyers purchase bulk, one size fits all. Luckily, they don’t buy all the same size shoes or pants. Tested and proven equipment is the best buy.
The death of Const. Potvin was preventable. Education and proper gear save lives. Hopefully, we learn from our mistakes.
My sincere condolences to family and friends.