It’s been one of busiest, not to mention one of the deadliest, years on record for Toronto’s waterways and public beaches.
So far in 2020, there have been eight beach-related drownings in Toronto.
“Compared to last year, we had one,” said Const. Richard Baker with the Toronto police marine unit, noting on average, the city sees one or two beach-related drownings annually.
“We certainly hope eight drownings is an anomaly. We don’t want to see a repeat of this in 2021.”
Baker, who has 14 years of service with the marine unit, said due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the cancellation of most events and gatherings, thousands of people flocked to the waterfront this spring and summer.
“The beaches and waterways became very popular, very quickly once the warm weather hit,” he said, adding many who enjoyed these public spaces don’t often do so.
Baker said with the “excitement of using waterways, beaches, and getting out in nature, many threw caution out the door.”
“I think there was lots of complacency, that was part of the problem. . . . We saw more people taking risks,” he said, pointing to one incident where a man who was not a strong swimmer was out in Lake Ontario by himself at night and got into trouble.
He said simple things like not wearing your life vest properly, not paying attention while boating or swimming, not thinking about weather conditions, and swimming in unsafe, unguarded areas can be the difference between life and death.
“Swimming and boating are relatively safe activities, but they can turn bad quickly,” he noted, adding many don’t realize Lake Ontario is a deep, cold body of water, that can be highly unpredictable.
“Lake Ontario is an island ocean, as we like to say,” said Baker, who said the fall is a particularly precarious time of the year as the water temperature drops quickly and significantly at night.
“If you’re boating this fall, don’t forget your gear, especially now if you fall into the water you need to get out extra quickly,” he advised.
“As we always say, be prepared. . . . Making a little effort to think about safety saves lives.”