The Capital Regional District’s parks committee will consider View Royal’s request to bring lifeguards back to Thetis Lake, although the lifeguards would not be able to prevent all drownings there.
“We’re going to be looking at this for the next year,” said Mike Hicks, chairman of the CRD parks committee.
“If it’s necessary and we can make it work, we’ll do it,” he said. The committee is not scheduled to meet again until fall.
Hicks said that lifeguards could not have prevented three near-drownings away from the main beach at Thetis this summer.
A woman slipped and fell, suffering serious injuries, from the Sunnyside cliffs on July 5. Two swimmers nearly drowned on June 27. The three people were saved by others in the water.
After the incidents, View Royal council asked the CRD to return lifeguards to the park. Thetis is within View Royal’s municipal borders, but is administered by the region.
The CRD had lifeguards three days a week at the main beaches at Thetis as well as at Elk/Beaver Lake in Saanich from 1977 to 2003.
Mike McIntyre, a senior CRD parks manager, said that the people who drowned or were seriously injured at Thetis were not near the main beaches once patrolled by lifeguards. A drowning in 2006 involved a man slipping off a cliff, and two separate drownings in 2004 also saw bodies recovered near the cliffs.
McIntyre said that while a lifeguard might make a beach seem safer, it could lull people into a false sense of security — or encourage them to drop their children and leave.
“It’s hard to patrol an entire lake,” said McIntyre, adding there are about a dozen access points for Thetis Lake alone.
“If we get asked to review the issue we would have to do an analysis to determine whether it would be effective or not,” McIntyre said. “I think we would still have issues of people getting themselves into trouble in the natural environment where it’s highly unpredictable.
“It’s people’s personal responsibility to understand their ability to swim and use safety around water.”
McIntyre said crowded beaches are safer than isolated ones because there are people around to help save lives.
Westwood Lake in Nanaimo, Arbutus Beach on Cowichan Lake and Fuller Lake in Chemainus are patrolled by lifeguards, but Hicks said a child drowned in Westwood in 2010 despite the presence of three pool-certified lifeguards on the site.
The Lifesaving Society of the B.C. and Yukon wants lifeguards with outdoor water certification patrolling all beaches. The outdoor standard requires at least 24 hours of extra training at cost of several hundred dollars.
“The presence of a lifeguard is as much about prevention and public education,” said Brooke Cherfils, the society’s education director.
Nineteen outdoor waterfront areas in B.C. have lifeguards on duty, according to statistics from Cherfils.
When Vancouver tried to eliminate lifeguards at six of its 11 beaches in 2012, the move was “defeated due to strong public outcry,” the society states.