Boating is a fun activity that requires skills and knowledge. Exposure to sun, wind and waves will affect the vision, balance, alertness and reaction times of operators and passengers. Unfortunatey, in small boats, a capsize or a fall overboard can happen unexpectedly. Cold water or consumption of alcohol can create critical situations that turn dangerous very quickly.
Are you ready for a rescue?
- Sun, waves & wind
- In the dark
- Wearing clothes & shoes
- Cold water shock
- Swim failure
Experienced boaters and water safety professionals all agree that risk can and should be managed with good preparation and smart decisions. All the evidence shows that when it comes to danger the water environment is an equal opportunity provider. It is not just the person who was reckless, stupid, drunk or inexperienced who ends up in trouble on the water (although, sadly, there are plenty of these) but there are just as many other victims who may have acted responsibly, been experienced boaters, stayed in the area they knew well and considered themselves a good swimmer.
What both types of boaters have in common
(indeed it is the great equalizer) is
they did not WEAR A LIFEJACKET
which could have easily saved their life
when things went wrong.
Primarily adult males who went out in a small open boat.
These victims ended up in the water unexpectedly. Just as many were good swimmers as were not, almost the same number were close to shore in calm waters as were caught in high wind or waves. Whichever way they entered the water (because of an accidental fall overboard, by capsize or swamping of the boat,) the end result was the same.
The water claimed them.
Drowning can happen fast and quietly.
Disorientation from sun, wind, noise, alcohol or carbon monoxide is a contributing factor to a fall overboard.
Weather and wave conditions can lead to water entering over the side or a sudden capsize of a small boat. Also caused by overloading or a sudden turn.
If the water is cold, the shock of immersion makes you gasp involuntarily and when this happens under the water that gasp can be your last breath.
Swimming ability may not help
If you are able to survive sudden immersion and manage the first terrifying moments of hyperventilation you can still find your muscles seizing up and the simple act of keeping your head above the waves next to impossible.
When the water is cold and you are wearing more clothes than a swimsuit, what used to be a frolic in the water becomes a fight for survival. After a short time your limbs do not function properly and your feet sink. This condition is called swim failure and those who study the phenomenon have found that it happens to the strongest among us and the best of swimmers too.
There is no calling out for help or fumbling to find and put on a lifejacket. Your companions will not be able to help you.
It can be a matter of life or death
Sadly, many of the most tragic incident reports are of witnesses who were helpless to prevent their loved ones from slipping beneath the surface. Sometimes it happened at night when they could not see around them, sometimes they were just out of reach, sometimes they touched briefly but could not hold on.
The memory of standing on shore watching while recovery teams search dark waters is a recurring nightmare for family, friends, neighbours and co-workers who now mourn those who are gone.
How big is the risk?
As many fatalities occur each year as could fill a passenger airplane.
It is not hard to imagine that if a commercial aircraft were to crash every summer somewhere in Canada, no one would fly anymore until an independent commission was able to identify the problem and impose a fix. Because the stories of these boating related drownings get told mainly in local news reports, we don’t fully appreciate the extent of the problem and therefore we tend to think it can’t happen to us.
As well, due to the private and tragic nature of these incidents safety organizations and police are hesitant to reveal the details that might make others stop and think about their own behavior.
What are the numbers?
• Canadian Red Cross Society Drownings in Canada and other water-related injuries - 10 Years of Research (Published in 2006/2009):
Module 1 - Overview (pdf 2.8MB)
Module 2 - Ice & Cold Water (pdf 3.7MB)
Module 3 - Boating & Powerboats (pdf 1MB)
Module 4 - Unpowered Boating (pdf 690MB)
Module 5 - Fishing (pdf 1MB)
On any given excursion in a big boat with a cabin and sturdy railings, the risk of ending up in the water (fortunately) is relatively low. For obvious reasons the risk increases as the size of boat (and its inherent stability) decreases. We can observe this in our own experience and we can calculate it any number of ways based on years of incident reports. We can compare it to other sports or daily activities or prevalent diseases. We can calculate the odds based on how many people participate, how many boats are owned, how many excursions people take and determine an injury or fatality rate that seems low compared to driving a car or cancer. This risk “assessment” feeds our feeling of security and also (unfortunately) our denial.
The fact is that the CONSEQUENCES of going overboard are so profound and so likely to end in drowning that the number game fails to represent the real assessment that should take place. It can happen to anyone, at any place or time, and it does.
One way to look at risk is like this:
You can walk along the edge of a curb and keep your balance quite easily. It is absolutely the same skill to walk along the ledge of a two - story building yet the consequence of slipping off the edge onto the street is very different in the two scenarios.
Because the water surface is so close in a boat and feels so benign and wonderful when we are swimming at a pool or beach (or off a dock or swim deck) it just doesn’t feel like a big problem to possibly find ourselves in the water.
- It is, however, a very different experience to enter the water when you didn’t plan to.
- It is very different to go overboard or capsize and be upside down with water up your nose or a bang on the head.
- It is very different to be in the water with jeans and running shoes and a sweatshirt, never mind boots or waders.
- It is very different if the water is cold and steals your breath and strength away.
In other fatalities like automobile deaths or cancer there are large populations, numerous variables, multiple contributing factors and no single preventative measure. Boating (and many swimming) fatalities are not like that. Although the evidence shows that there are many contributing factors as to why a boater might find him or herself overboard, once in the water things can go bad very quickly.
The simple, across the board, inexpensive solution is to WEAR A LIFEJACKET.
The wearing of a lifejacket mitigates the other contributing factors such as: rough water, cold water, sudden wind or waves, overloading, dizziness from too much sun or standing up too quickly, carbon monoxide from an idling engine, and collision with a shoal or deadhead or another boat. These things can happen in any combination or chain of events and chances are good that you are going to be OK because you have worn a lifejacket.
• You will still have your head out of the water in those first chaotic moments.
• You will immediately be able to get your bearings and help your frightened child, or your older relative with the heart condition, or your injured friend.
• You will be able to grab onto the side of your boat before it drifts away.
• You will be able to be seen by other boats or search and rescue personnel.
• You can survive the gasp reflex of cold shock and you will have a chance to fight off the deadly effects of heat loss due to long term immersion (hypothermia) and thus extend your survival time.
A lifejacket is like a seatbelt or a helmet: it is too late to get it on when the accident is happening.
The critical moments are when you first hit the water; if you are not wearing your lifejacket there was not much point in bringing it.
A lifejacket is extremely difficult to put on in the water even with practice.
A lifejacket is one of the first things to drift away (usually along with the boat) and also one of the first things found by search and recovery personnel (usually far from where the body lies submerged.)
Why don’t more people wear a lifejacket?
Studies indicate that, quite simply, people don’t wear a lifejacket because they don’t have to. They don't think it necessary and they just don't want to.
A 2002 survey of attitudes by the Canadian Red Cross about lifejackets found that 60% of adult males who don’t wear one said they would if it was mandatory. (*)
The current Small Vessel Regulations state that all boaters must have a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD) but the regulation is not clear about when they have to get it on.
Recent amendments to these regulations have made it a requirement that lifejackets or PFDs be an “appropriate size for each person on board” and also “close at hand.”
Riders of personal watercraft are required to wear a lifejacket or PFD.
In activities where inflatable PFD’s are allowed, they must be worn to fulfill the carriage requirements.
More and more organizations that conduct activity around water require that participants wear a lifejacket. Those who venture on the water as part of their work are also regulated and provided with comfortable PFD’s that they must wear.
Despite this most people don’t wear a lifejacket. When asked about their behavior and attitudes about lifejackets in surveys many people insist that they are safe and responsible folks and “of course” they wear a lifejacket.. Unfortunately this is never born out in observed wear studies where usually 15% is the highest score that can be counted. There are usually more pets wearing lifejackets than children and even fewer adults setting a good example by wearing theirs.
(*) Environics Research Group. Canadian Boater Attitudes Toward Personal Flotation Devices: Final Report: Environics Research Group, for Office of Boating Safety, Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2002.
(The easiest excuse for not wearing a lifejacket is the one we carry from our childhood...)
“I don’t want to!”
(When asked why, the common response is...)
“It’s wet and smelly!”
(Well, you would be too if stuffed under the bow for 10 years... This excuse usually graduates to...)
“They are uncomfortable!”
(They might have been in the past but times have changed. It’s time to try on a new size, a new design, a new cool material, the right comfortable choice for your activity...)
“They cost too much!”
(Really? Have you checked out the range of options? How much was that fancy coffee? The sunglasses you dropped in the water? That last tank of gas for the PWC? People who have survived going overboard didn't regret their investment. Spend a little bit more than the inexpensive "compliance devices" and you can have a vest or jacket that you won't notice you are wearing and that others will admire.
“But I don’t need it anyway!”
(Well the safety professionals think you do. Get the facts, then please get it on...)
"I'm a good swimmer."
(Maybe so. When was the last time you swam in open water with shoes on or jeans or a jacket. How cold was the water? How scared were you?)
“Don’t tell me what to do. It's my choice."
(OK, but if you are responsible for yourself, how can you choose not to...? What is your responsibility to others in your boat and in your life?)
- What type of activity
- Style, comfort & fit
- New Inflatables
For comfort, peace of mind and excellent performance when you need it most.
The right design, fit and buoyancy makes all the difference.
Check out the new products and choose one for you.
Can you ensure their safety?
Are you fully prepared for a sudden emergency situation? Does everyone know exactly what to do?
You must provide a lifejacket that fits each size of person properly. When should you insist that they wear it?