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Hot weather in Finland leads to high number of drowning incidents

July 19, 2010
 
Let’s face it folks it has been sweltering hot in this country for well over two weeks now. News reports have indicated that this is the hottest summer in Finland in 50 years. And when it’s hot, Finns take to the water in droves, with unfortunate consequences in many cases.
 
This past weekend saw at least 10 people drown around the country – 10! How many of these deaths could have been prevented? YLE reports on it here:
http://www.yle.fi/uutiset/news/2010/07/10_drownings_as_hot_spell_continues_1840301.html
 
What gets me with regards to water safety (or lack thereof) in Finland is how non-existent lifeguards are at public beaches. Last week a friend visiting from Canada (also a former lifeguard) and I marvelled at the "Lifesavers" (that’s what their t-shirts read) in Matinkylä who sunned themselves on the dock instead of keeping an eye on the water. Heaven help me if I need their help! (Updated July 21.) Let me remind you, these fellas are probably being paid to do this…
 
 
In Canada and other western countries, lifeguarding is a well-paid profession. Lifeguards are trained to save lives, but this is a culture that does not seem to exist on the waterways of Finland – especially if we take the Matinkylä lifesavers into account…
 
Finns seem to overestimate their own swimming skills and adults even swim drunk during the summer months. It’s a recipe for disaster. (Water safety all year round is also an issue; it’s not just a summer time thing.)
 
Swimming lessons are widely available to children at municipal pools, but in the words of a fellow Canuck friend here in Finland, you have to be the first in line if you want to get a spot for your child. Swimming lessons are wildly popular for school aged kids and they fill up fast here in Espoo.
 
While my little one is three years old (and very brave in the water), she doesn’t get to swim alone – EVER! If it appears that getting her registered in swimming lessons will be next to impossible, I’ll take it upon myself to teach her to swim and be safe around the water. (Fortunately I was able to enroll in water safety and lifesaving courses when I was still in Canada. The skills have not been forgotten even if I spend less time in the water than I used to.)
 
So what should be done in Finland to reduce the proportionately high number of deaths on the water? The alcohol consumption culture certainly needs to change; it is the leading cause of preventable accidents of all kinds in this country. Water safety needs to be better highlighted including the use of lifejackets and improving the water safety skills of the general population. People should just be smarter about water safety in general, but it will take a generation of sustained effort to change the mindsets of Finns who take to the water in droves year round.
 
See more at Finnish Association for Swimming Instruction and Life Saving (SUH): http://www.suh.fi/
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