Summer’s just begun, but there’s already been eight boating-related deaths in Ontario this season—that’s triple the number at this time last year.
The incidents took place on various lakes and waterways throughout the province, but according to investigators, there was one common element: none of the victims were wearing lifejackets or PFDs.
This report was released just before the first long weekend of the summer, which Boaterexam.com CEO, Brent McNamee, says is often a fatal weekend as well.
Cottagers might refer to the time between Victoria Day weekend and Labour Day weekend as summer, but among first responders it’s often known as “trauma season.” It’s the time of year when more people are getting outside—on the road, water, and ATV trails—and that leads to a sharp increase in 911 calls related to traumatic injuries.
McNamee told CTV News that the single biggest thing boaters can do to protect themselves on the water is wearing a lifejacket, and OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair agrees:
“A significant number of the boating deaths we investigate every year involve canoes and kayaks. Because the victims were not wearing a lifejacket, the majority of them died, either because they could not swim, the water was too cold or they were impaired by alcohol or drugs,” Blair told Muskokaregion.com. “I cannot stress enough how significantly a properly worn lifejacket improves your chance of survival when you are in any type of boat and suddenly find yourself in the water.”
It’s also worth noting how far lifejackets have come in both style and comfort. You don’t have to wear a big, bulky key-hole life vest. For pleasure crafts, a recreational boat rather than one designed to transport passengers, there’s a wide range of Transport Canada-approved PFD styles if you’re 16 or older, including low-profile vests that inflate at the pull of a tag.
But the lack of lifejackets being worn wasn’t the only issue: alcohol was also believed to play a part in all but one of the accidents, despite the fact that operating a boat under the influence is an offence under the Criminal Act of Canada. In Ontario, the fines and penalties for driving a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs are the same as those for driving a motor vehicle under the influence. That includes canoes and kayaks, which were involved in six of the eight incidents.
“In Ontario, if you get caught canoeing under the influence or driving a boat, you’re going to lose your driver’s licence as well,” McNamee said, and you can bet OPP will be patrolling waterways the rest of the summer.