Spending time out on the water is a summertime tradition that most people enjoy. Whether you’re out on the ocean, a lake, river or pond, there’s nothing quite like it. Anytime open water is involved though, there are certain risks to take into consideration.
Unfortunately, there are hundreds of drowning fatalities in Canada every year. It is one of the leading causes of unintentional deaths worldwide, and tragically affects young children the most. Whether you’re on the shoreline or out pleasure boating, fishing or participating in water sports, there are steps that you can take to ensure that you stay safe around the water.
Boats come in all shapes and sizes and are typically designed for a specific purpose like fishing, cruising or water sports. The one common element though, is that they are powerful vehicles that need to be operated with respect. Boating can also expose users to additional hazards out on the open water that you need to be prepared for.
- Transport Canada must issue a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (also known as a boating license) to anyone who operates a power-driven boat. This license must be kept with you and it demonstrates that you have an understanding of water and boating rules. For more information, visit: https://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/marinesafety/debs-obs-paperwork-paperwork_boat_licence-1898.htm
- Aside from obtaining a boating license, operators are always encouraged to enroll in a boating safety course to ensure that they fully understand the rules of the water and what to do in emergency situations
- It is the law that all boats have approved lifejackets or Personal Flotation Devices (PFD’s) available and accessible for each passenger on the boat
- Never operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It’s a sad fact that many powerboat accidents and fatalities are the result of operators being intoxicated.
- Have a clear understanding of, and always obey, all posted signs and signals for speed, rights-of-way and navigation
- Storms and bad weather can easily catch you by surprise. Always check local weather conditions before you head out.
- Always operate at safe speeds and in keeping with water conditions and visibility. Avoid dangerous maneuvers or horseplay with your craft.
- Get to know your boat inside and out and how to handle it in all conditions. Never overload with passengers or gear and be sure to keep all equipment organized and stowed away to avoid clutter and potential accidents.
- Never allow young children to drive powerboats, and be sure to follow all regulations regarding age and horsepower restrictions for operation
- Make sure you have a clear understanding of local waterways and any hazards that may be present, in addition to other factors such as dams, canals or locks
- Even for short trips (and no matter the boat type), create a trip plan and tell a responsible person your route and expected time of return
- By law, you must have the right safety equipment on board in case of an emergency. This is dependent on the type and length of the boat and includes items including personal flotation devices, visual signals, vessel safety, navigation and fire fighting. For a complete listing, review the Transport Canada Safe Boating Guide at: http://www.tc.gc.ca/publications/EN/TP511/PDF%5CHR/TP511E.pdf
- Aside from the items listed within the Safe Boating Guide, it is also recommended that an emergency kit be maintained on board, depending on the size and type of boat and the nature of your trip. This kit could include items such as a first aid kit, sunscreen, drinking water, high-energy food rations, flashlights, tools, matches, weather and waterproof clothing etc.
Lifejackets & PFD’s
The Canadian Red Cross indicates that in the vast majority of drowning deaths, victims were not wearing a personal flotation device or were not wearing it properly.
- We know that it’s the law to have approved PFD’s on board, but they don’t work unless you wear them. Get into the habit of wearing your vest for every trip, and be sure that children always have theirs on.
- Size and fit is critical if the PFD is going to perform properly. Be sure that the size is appropriate for the weight of the wearer and that it fits snugly, with all straps and buckles securely fastened.
- There are a variety of PFD types available, depending on your activity (general life vest, kayaking, water skiing etc.). Be sure to use the one that best suits your needs.
- Keep personal flotation devices in good condition and store in a cool, dry place when not in use. Replace them immediately if they become worn or damaged.
- Don’t assume that everyone knows how PFD’s work. All boaters, especially children, should practice putting them on and securing properly.
- For added safety, wear a whistle on your PFD to signal for help if you go overboard. If you’re traveling at night, the addition of a small strobe light feature on the vest is very helpful for visual location.
General Water Safety
If you accidentally end up in the water from your boat, or are simply taking a refreshing dip, here are a few things to remember:
- Rule number one – know how to swim. Never venture into the water if you’re unsure of your ability to stay afloat and to swim effectively. Remember that you put others at risk if they need to come to your aid.
- It’s always a good idea to enroll children in swimming lessons if you plan on being around the water, even if it’s just while you’re on vacation. Drown proofing is critical to keep kids safe if they accidentally end up in the water.
- ALWAYS supervise children when close to water. This is not an option.
- Be aware of water temperature so that you avoid any chances of hypothermia and reduce the risk of drowning
- Be very cautious of strong currents, both from the shore and when out in open water. Even the best swimmers can easily get swept away. Always obey posted beach signs warning of strong currents or riptides.
- Never dive into unknown waters. Always jump feet-first to avoid the potential of a head or neck injury.
- Adopt the buddy system and always swim with a friend. You never know what might happen.
- Learn CPR and drowning first aid so that you’ll be prepared in case of an emergency
Spending time in and on the water can be a great experience. Just be sure to follow the rules and apply some common sense so that you stay safe.