Penticton city council sinks idea for beach lifeguards

Penticton is sticking to its current plan of no lifeguards on the city's extensive beaches.

  • Sep. 20, 2016 12:00 p.m.
With two drownings on Skaha Lake this summer

With two drownings on Skaha Lake this summer

Don’t expect to see lifeguards on Penticton beaches next summer.

Two tragic incidents this summer had Penticton city council looking at the issue of lifeguards, but having city staff compile a report on two prior audits is as far as the issue has been taken so far.

Read more: Drowning highlights need for safety on Penticton lakes

Penticton firefighters called to second drowning this month

Coun. Andre Martin said there had been a lot of talk about the drownings, and this report would let people know the research had been done.

“I do believe we have far too much beach to cover and have everyone feel comfortable. It would probably be very expensive to do that,” said Martin, who moved that council receive the report and urge everyone to be cautious out on the water.

Audits were done in 2007 and 2012, at the city’s request, by the Lifesaving Society with an eye to maximizing the safety of aquatic facilities and reducing chances of aquatic-related injury and drowning.

In both cases, the Lifesaving Society spoke in favour of lifeguards on the beaches, but recognized the city also had to consider budget restraints and the likelihood of incidents. The 2007 audit was accompanied by staff notes listing number of concerns about employing lifeguards, ranging from a false sense of security on the part of swimmers, to budget constraints and the amount of beach that would need to be covered.

“That comes with all sorts of consequences, but it also comments that Penticton has done a good job of signage,” said Coun. Judy Sentes. “You can’t be responsible for everyone, but I think we have put the best effort forward.”

Underlying all these issues, is liability. Colin Fisher, the city’s chief financial officer, explained that if the city had a lifeguard policy, it could be liable if those provisions weren’t met.

“With the presence of lifeguards, there will automatically be a greater expectation of protection by the public,” said Fisher. “With no lifeguards there is no expectation of protection.”

In 2008, the city experimented with a water safety campaign through the recreation department, having two aquatics staff members occasionally visiting Okanagan and Skaha beaches to talk to the public about water safety and local hazards. However, the program was not repeated in following years.

Mayor Andrew Jakubeit suggested a similar program, in co-operation with a tourism or community group and having youth ambassadors visiting the beach in the summer.

“They can walk the beach and talk about tourism things, they can talk about water safety. That might be a way of helping educate people and sharing that cost with tourism,” said Jakubeit.

“Maybe there are some partnership opportunities.”

Council voted unanimously to accept the report, but did not direct staff to take any further action.