Juan de Fuca Search and Rescue services continued the search for a missing Sooke man on Monday morning. (Tim Collins - Sooke News Mirror)

B.C. search and rescue teams had another record year in 2021

Pandemic has pushed more people outdoors, including underprepared hikers

It’s been a record year for search and rescue teams across British Columbia, as people flocked outside amid COVID-19 restrictions.

While final numbers are still being tallied, there were just under 2,000 rescues conducted by search and rescue teams across B.C. this year, according to Dwight Yochim, BC Search and Rescue Association senior manager, making it a second straight record year.

The sheer number of people heading outside for recreation boosted those numbers, he said, with many gyms and other spaces closed for stretches during the pandemic.

Mainland search and rescue numbers were affected by the flooding in the Fraser Valley, with teams working around the clock helping people evacuate while also conducting rescues.

“I know there were rescues happening on the mountains of hikers that were hiking at the same time that the flooding was going on,” Yochim said. “So it was an extremely busy time for our teams.”

While the rains kept mainland crews busier, the Juan de Fuca Search and Rescue Unit experienced a bit of respite amid the rain. Vickie Weber, senior manager of search and rescue operations, said the weather kept many Island residents inside. While the first 18 months of the pandemic were busy, she said, the past couple of months have seen the team return to the typical two to three calls per month.

On the water, the weather and COVID-19 have had minimal impact on call numbers for Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue crews in Greater Victoria, said Ralph Morhmann, director of readiness. Even with more people buying boats and spending longer on the water with travel restrictions in place, crews are seeing typical callout and rescue numbers, he said.

With the Omicron variant causing gyms to shut down again temporarily, Weber said her unit is bracing for another potential surge in rescue calls.

The outbreak has also made logistics and training difficult. Equipment needs to be checked, maintained and restocked in between calls and training new volunteers has had to be done on a rotational basis, with meetings largely cancelled as the pandemic continues.

“The weather just really adds another layer of complexity for us,” Weber said.

Teams often work in tandem and that collaboration has helped meet the surge in demand, Yochim and Weber said. As well, many search and rescue teams are looking for volunteers who can help manage the logistics side, Yochim added, without necessarily needing to be involved in rescues.

For people looking to head outdoors away from urban centres, the Adventure Smart website is a good resource with tips on gear to bring, trip planning tools and other important information.

“Half the battle is just being prepared to go out in the outdoors these days. It really relies on the individual to be ready,” Yochim said. “I know a lot of people say, ‘I am extremely fit and I know what I’m doing,’ but all it takes is a twisted ankle and (not bringing) something to keep you warm overnight. That could be the difference between an enjoyable trip and one of the worst you’ll ever have.”

READ MORE: Boaters trying to rescue beached sailboat off Saanich Peninsula towed off rocks to safety


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