“The best rescue is the one you don’t have to do. That’s the goal,” lifesaving instructor Lars Bakstad tells a group of bouncy youth on a fine winter day at South Chesterman Beach in Tofino.
Their surf instructor, Jay Rosene, drops in on the ocean safety conversation, sharing with the kids the first three things to be aware of before heading out:
“You need to know about the rip currents. You need to be aware if there are other people in the water and you need to be aware of the conditions. Predict the unpredictable,” said Rosene, the founder of Torpedo Kids Surf School.
“Know before you go so that we keep ourselves out of trouble,” he said.
New CoastSmart ocean safety signage was recently installed at all the beaches in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve and on the Wild Pacific Trail to help first responders with rescues. Visitors and locals can also download a free CoastSmart App that features weather forecasts, tides and beach descriptions.
“You’re going to see new, standardized signs that have the CoastSmart messaging. Please download the app. At every location you go it will have an alpha numeric code which allows you to call 9-1-1 and they’ll know exactly your location if anything goes wrong,” said Bakstad.
CoastSmart, a public safety project, was launched a couple years ago in partnership with Parks Canada, the District of Tofino and the District of Ucluelet. The initiative received over $800,000 from the National Search and Rescue Secretariat of Canada for development. From that budget, about $200,000 was allocated towards ocean safety signage.
READ: Ucluelet asks for CoastSmart’s budget (Mar. 2, 2017)
Dale Miller, executive director of the Life Saving Society’s B.C. and Yukon branch, said the Life Saving Society supports the CoastSmart initiative.
“It’s a great vehicle for education of the public to try to decrease the number of drownings in the Pacific Rim area,” said Miller.
Preliminary statistics procured by the Life Saving Society show that in 2018, there were 55 drowning deaths in B.C. About 80 per cent of those fatalities were male, notes Miller.
Last year, there were two fatal accidents at Long Beach. University of Victoria student Nijin John died in a surfing accident in February and during the May Long weekend, 52-year old Ann Wittenberg was killed in an ocean accident off Lovekin Rock.
Miller thinks accommodation providers need to be CoastSmart educated in some degree to prevent future ocean related fatalities.
“Trying to make sure that before people even hit the beach [they are aware]. Once people hit the beach and see the water they’re focused on getting in and having fun. They’re not necessarily thinking about what they need to do to ensure their own safety,” he said.
The Life Saving Society recently visited the Pacific Rim to facilitate a couple input workshops for local first responder agencies and company partners like surf schools and accommodations providers.
“The Life Saving Society saw a very high level of passion and commitment to water safety from the community during these workshops,” said Miller, adding that he hopes the region will continue to grow and collaborate to promote the CoastSmart message.