A report released today by the Canadian Red Cross shows males account for 93 per cent of boating-related deaths in Canada and failure to wear a personal flotation device or life jacket continues to be dominant factor.

Canadian Red Cross
Canadian Red Cross

Rick Caissie, national vice-president of Prevention and Safety for the Canadian Red Cross, says:

We've reviewed coroner reports and other drowning-related data from the past 20 years during which time there were at least 10,511 unintentional water-related deaths in Canada. Up to 85 per cent of these deaths could have been prevented by simply wearing lifejackets.”

Aside from emotional trauma, the Red Cross notes that these preventable deaths have enormous economic impact on surviving family members, as the victim is often an income earner and the direct financial loss per death averages $2 million over time.

The report, available online at redcross.ca/flotation, showed 77 per cent of boating deaths occur during recreational activities like fishing, power-boating, canoeing or kayaking, and that capsizing or falling overboard unexpectedly are the most frequent incidents.

Pleasure-craft operators in Canada are legally required to have sufficient numbers and correct sizes of PFDs on their vessels, yet the Red Cross research found that among drowning victims, 34 per cent of inexperienced boaters, 33 per cent of occasional boaters, and 22 per cent of experienced boaters did not even have a PFD in their vessel. Alcohol was present or suspected in at least 43 per cent of deaths among Canadians over age 15 and those exceeding the legal blood-alcohol limit were four times less likely to be wearing a PFD.

A particular concern to the Red Cross was Indigenous populations.  It found proper lifejacket use was five times lower among Indigenous people who drowned, and that drowning incidents more frequently involved multiple victims including women and children.  More than one-third (38 per cent) of child boating victims were Indigenous and over the study period, none of those children wore a lifejacket or PFD when they drowned.

Legislation requiring PFDs to be worn, coupled with efficient enforcement may be the most effective measure to prevent water-related fatalities, but it is not only up to government and industry to decrease preventable deaths -- all Canadians must commit to wearing lifejackets and staying safe around and on the water this summer and year-round,” said Caissie.

Release of the report coincides with Swimming and Water Safety Week from June 4-11, and the Red Cross says four simple steps could prevent most boating-relating drownings:

•       Preparing before any outing including checking the forecast and knowing expected water temperatures, winds, waves and onset of darkness.
•       Getting trained by enrolling yourself or your children in swimming lessons, as well as CPR and first aid training.
•       Wearing a PFD while operating a boat significantly increases the likelihood of your passengers wearing them too.
•       Complying with Canadian regulations on safety measures including sufficient sizes and numbers of PFDs for everyone in your boat.

The Canadian Red Cross is the country’s leading provider of prevention and safety training, with some 2.4 million Canadians trained annually in emergency preparedness, first aid and CPR, swimming and water safety and violence and abuse prevention.

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