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Westlock RCMP plan to make lake checks in August

Staff Sgt. Al Baird says avoiding impairment and wearing life jackets are the top tips to stay safe
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Westlock RCMP will be taking to area lakes this month to ensure boaters are following simple rules, like wearing a lifejacket.

WESTLOCK – RCMP will be on the water this month in an ongoing effort to ensure boaters avoid impairment and are wearing their life jackets.

Westlock RCMP Staff Sgt. Al Baird confirmed Aug. 4 they’ll be at Long Island Lake and other bodies of water throughout August, using the RCMP’s regional boat to do spot checks. Whether operating a boat, canoe, kayak or paddleboard, or participating in activities like tubing or swimming, the RCMP say it’s important to always keep water safety top of mind.

“I believe it’s out of St. Paul right now, but I know some detachments have boats and I think Slave Lake has a boat as well,” he said. “So, the person comes out and one of our guys jumps in with them. We just want to make sure people are following the rules and staying safe as the main thing is education.”

The top tip the RCMP offer is to never operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which is illegal and punishable under the Criminal Code — the same rules apply whether you’re driving a car, boat or even a plane. Impairment also affects a person's motor ability, judgement, and reaction time, said Baird, which can be deadly when you mix in water.  But Baird also said people need to ensure they’re using their lifejackets and personal floatation devices which can be the difference between life and death.

“As we see in the news there’s been people in different lakes who fall in and overturn. And then if you throw in alcohol, all of the things that could help them are thrown out the window,” he said.  “Having the lifejackets in the boat is fine, but it doesn’t do you any good if the boat capsizes and the lifejackets are in the boat and not on the people.”

Other tips include always checking weather forecasts and reports as changing weather conditions can be extremely dangerous while on the water. In addition, dress appropriately for cool weather or extreme heat and don’t be afraid to stow extra clothing.

Also be sure to the share your itinerary and location with someone so that you could be located quickly in case of an emergency and keep in mind that cellphone coverage may be limited or non-existent where you’re boating.

Prepare your boat to ensure it is equipped with mandatory safety equipment and always bring emergency supplies like extra food, water, clothes, and a cellphone. Baird also noted that there are rules for mandatory spotters when pulling water skiers or tubers.

“Our whole purpose is to ensure people are following the rules and to educate them as well,” he said.

And finally, be self-aware and don’t push your physical limits as the RCMP say many drownings are a result of fatigue and being too far from shore.

While thankfully there’s been few tragedies on local lakes and rivers over the years, there have been close calls like the incident last spring when a man tubing on the Pembina River was having abdominal pains and had to be taken to hospital via ambulance, or the 2018 incident when two teenaged girls got lost after tubing down the river but were eventually found OK.

For tubbers, Westlock County fire chief John Biro previously recommended monitoring the Alberta Rivers Forecast, then mapping a route and setting checkpoints with whoever is picking you up, while noting there is safety in numbers so never travel alone. Lifejackets are also a must, as is a cellphone, and although it’s tempting to have a six-pack at your side, staying sober on the water could be the difference between life and death, he added.

George Blais,

George Blais

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