Patrolling OPP officers in southern Georgian Bay are giving shirts to children that they “catch” wearing their lifejackets.
After doing a routine boat check, patrolling marine officers will hand out t-shirts that say “I got caught wearing my lifejacket” to children aged five to 13. The initiative was founded in 2005 by OPP Sgt. David Moffatt, who was inspired by a similar program they already had in place for people wearing bike helmets.
Since 2010, the OPP has recorded around 300 boat-related deaths. Moffatt says in around 260 of those cases, the people who died were not wearing lifejackets. Most fatalities were caused by individuals falling overboard or capsizing and getting shocked by the cold water, and both weak and strong swimmers were involved in the incidents.
“The benefit that I saw in the program’s first year was incredible,” Moffatt says. “We’d stop a boat with four kids where maybe two weren’t wearing a lifejacket, and the other two were, so I’d give them the shirts. Later on in the summer, I would see the same boat, and all the kids would be wearing lifejackets.”
Moffatt got $70,000 in donations from various local institutions to run the program for six years in Muskoka. Other officers, including David Hobson of the Southern Georgian Bay detachment, have since decided to pick up shirts for their regions, with Maple Leaf Marinas supporting the program financially this year.
Since the program kicked off on August 4, Hobson and his team have handed out more than 20 shirts. He says even though there’s no law requiring people to wear lifejackets, the shirts encourage people to stay safe on the water.
“It means a lot to the kids,” Hobson says. “But the parents are more appreciative because it reinforces their teachings.”