Zip up your lifejacket when you head out on the water! For many Canadians, the summer season means enjoying outdoor activities such as fishing, power boating or canoeing. But each year, tragic and avoidable boating-related fatalities occur across Canada. A study of the long-term trends indicates that the use of proper safety equipment such as a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD) would greatly reduce this number.
“Very few boaters expect to end up in the water, yet the majority of boating-related fatalities result from a capsized boat or a fall overboard,” says Keely McBride, First Aid and Water Safety Program Representative for the Canadian Red Cross. “In these incidences, wearing a lifejacket could mean the difference between life and death. Trying to put a lifejacket on once you are in trouble is like trying to fasten your seatbelt right as your car crashes – there won’t be time.”
Between 1991 and 2006, boating accounted for an estimated total of almost 3,000 injury deaths in Canada. A 16 year study indicated that only 12 per cent of immersion fatalities were reported to be correctly wearing a lifejacket or PFD. Of all recreational boating immersion deaths during this period, 93 per cent were male. Men between 15 and 54 years old accounted for the majority of fatalities. Alcohol was a factor for nearly half of these, and environmental conditions such as the weather, wind and waves were also significant contributing factors.
“If there is only one thing you do before heading out on the water, make sure that you put on your lifejacket,” says McBride. “It keeps you at the surface if you unexpectedly or unintentionally end up in the water, reduces the initial impact of a fall into cold water, and can help you reach safety.”
Before heading out on the water, ensure that all persons on board - even strong swimmers - are wearing a correctly sized lifejacket. In addition, McBride advises boaters to be aware of and monitor the weather and water conditions, be prepared to head to the nearest point of safety if the conditions change, and never consume alcohol before or during a boating outing.
The annual National Lifejacket Day campaign includes initiatives for educating the public on the effectiveness of lifejackets in preventing drowning incidents. Red Cross encourage members of the public to use May 19th as an opportunity to encourage their families and colleagues to zip up for safety! For more information on Canadian Red Cross training programs, visit www.redcross.ca/swim.