Transport Canada, which oversees both recreational and commercial vessel safety, is asking members of the Canadian Marine Advisory Council (CMAC) to weigh in on whether all boaters, including those in human-powered vessels, such as canoes and kayaks, should be legally required to wear a lifejacket while out on the water.
The CMAC is comprised of parties with interests in shipping, navigation, and marine pollution, and it advises the federal government on marine safety and security issues. During the council’s fall 2022 meeting, Transport Canada asked members to provide comments on a list of regulations the agency had developed around lifejackets.
The proposed regulations included the following:
- Require the mandatory wearing of a PFD or a lifejacket for any person aged 14 years or younger on board a pleasure craft; or
- Require the mandatory wearing of a PFD or a lifejacket for any person aged 18 years or younger on board a pleasure craft.
Vessel size requirements:
- Require the mandatory wearing of a PFD or a lifejacket for any person on board any pleasure craft six metres in length and below; or
- Require the mandatory wearing of a PFD or a lifejacket for any person on board any pleasure craft nine metres in length and below
- Require the mandatory wearing of a PFD or a lifejacket for any person on board any motorized vessel (i.e. powerboats); or
- Require the mandatory wearing of a PFD or a lifejacket for any person on board any motorized vessel (i.e. powerboats) and human-powered vessel (i.e. canoes, kayaks)
Transport Canada asked members to submit answers about which regulations they supported, any they disagreed with, or any proposed variations to the regulations by February 20.
Transport Canada started floating the idea of making lifejackets mandatory on recreational boats in 2018 when it hired a behavioural scientist to conduct an online survey assessing the perception recreational boaters had of lifejackets. The agency also sent out boating safety officers to public locations to record the number of people wearing lifejackets.
Using the data collected, Transport Canada crafted its proposed lifejacket regulations, and is now gathering feedback from safety organizations and industry partners.
Currently, boaters are required to have a lifejacket on board for each person, but the lifejackets don’t have to be worn. Although, in 2022, MPP Norm Miller brought forward the Lifejackets for Life Act in the Canadian Parliament, which would require children 12 or younger to wear a lifejacket while on a recreational boat. Not complying with the Act could land you a fine of $200.
According to Transport Canada, wearing a lifejacket can be the difference between life and death, especially in cold water. “This is true despite the boater’s experience, closeness to shore, and even swimming ability. A sudden fall into cold water can seriously affect breathing, nerves, and muscle strength. A lifejacket gives you thermal protection as well as keeping you buoyant. Most recreational boaters who die on the water each year in Canada are not wearing flotation devices or are not wearing them properly,” the agency said on its website.
Last year, the Ontario Provincial Police reported 29 boating-related fatalities. Of those 29 people who died, 26 weren’t wearing a lifejacket.
After February 20, when Transport Canada has received feedback from CMAC members, the agency will open the proposed lifejacket regulations to public review and comment through its Let’s Talk Transportation website.
“Input received on these options, and the issue of mandatory wear in general, will inform potential regulatory amendments, including the approach taken towards potential non-compliance with any future regulations,” the agency said in an email.