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Drowning deaths nearly double this spring

Men continued to account for the majority of water-related deaths this year.

Pelastusrengas uimarannalla.
Emergency services and ordinary citizens also rescued a number of people from close calls on the water and ice this spring. Image: Petteri Bülow / Yle

New statistics indicate that the number of drowning deaths this spring is already nearly double the number reported at the same time last year. So far this year, a total of 40 people have lost their lives in water- and ice-related incidents, compared to 24 last year and 19 in 2018.

According to the Finnish Swimming Teaching and Lifesaving Federation (FSL) the partial lockdown caused by the coronavirus crisis inspired people to take to the open ice and seas during the spring, resulting in a number of water-related fatalities. The organisation said that the last time the number of drowning deaths was higher than this year was in 2014.

The FSL noted that the coronavirus crisis saw an increase in the number of deaths caused by people falling through thin ice, reaching 19 in April. The corresponding number last year was four and nine in 2018.

The federation said that in addition to greater enthusiasm for the outdoors, last winter's weak ice cover was also partly responsible for the rise in ice-related deaths. Apart from the people who lost their lives in the water, many others were rescued by emergency services and ordinary citizens, it added.

"This spring rescue services responded to considerably more water-related calls than usual," FSL executive director Kristiina Heinonen said.

Alcohol, good weather increase risks

As in previous years, this year men accounted for the majority of drowning deaths -- 80 percent. Eastern Finland led the statistics with the highest number of incidents (13), followed by western and central Finland with 10 cases each.

Generally, drowning deaths in Finland peak during the summer months. According to FSL, so far June has already been warmer than usual, increasing the risk of more drownings.

Heinonen said that while the media tend to focus on deaths that occur during the long Midsummer weekend, risk are persent throughout the summer.

"Long free periods overall and vacations combined with alcohol and outings on the water are always a risk. Good weather increases the number of people on the water and as a result, [the number of] drownings, she noted.

Heinonen said that during Midsummer people may spontaneously take to the water while inebriated without life vests. Statistics indicate that more than half of victims who drowned while out boating were under the influence.

"Drowning victims are usually middle-aged men out in familiar waters in small boats. They may have had life vests with them, but they were not wearing them," she added.

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