A June report released by the Canadian Red Cross says that males account for 93 percent of boating-related deaths.
The Flotation Report, a study based on 20 years of research, reveals the absence of a personal flotation device (PFD) as a reoccurring factor in the deaths. The report contains research into the incidences and causes of water-related fatalities and lifejacket/personal flotation use in Canada from 1991 to 2010. It was developed and supported by the Canadian Red Cross in collaboration with the Cook-Rees Memorial Fund.
"Over the last 20 years there were an alarming 10,511 unintentional water-related deaths in Canada,' says Shelley Dalke, Director of Swimming and Water Safety at the Canadian Red Cross. "We know over 50 percent of these tragic fatalities could have been prevented with the use of lifejackets, and yet over two decades of researching water-related deaths, we found that many victims continue to choose not to wear a lifejacket.'
• 77 percent of boating deaths occurred during recreational activities like fishing, powerboating and canoeing – capsizing and falling overboard are the most frequent incidents.
• Between 50 to 85 percent of boating-related fatalities could have been prevented by wearing a PFD.
• At least 34 per cent of inexperienced boaters, 33 per cent of occasional boaters, and 22 per cent of experienced boaters did not have a PFD in their boat, which is a legal requirement in Canada.
• Only four percent of non-swimmers compared to 13 percent of strong swimmers who drowned were properly wearing a PFD.
• Alcohol was present or suspected in at least 43 percent of deaths among Canadians over 15 years old. Individuals who were above the provincial or territorial blood-alcohol limit were four times less likely to wear a PFD than those with no alcohol involvement.
• Proper lifejacket use was five times lower among Indigenous people who died, and Indigenous incidents more frequently involved multiple victims, including women and children.
• Over a third (38 percent) of child boating victims were Indigenous and none of these children were wearing a lifejacket or PFD when they drowned.
"Our research found that the greatest effectiveness for preventing water-related fatalities is legislation requiring PFDs to be worn, coupled with efficient enforcement,' says Dalke. "But it is not only up to government and industry leaders to decrease preventable deaths. All Canadians must commit to wearing lifejackets and staying safe around and on the water this summer season, and year-round.'
The Red Cross also claims there is an economic impact to Canadian society as a result of drownings. The group says the average estimated cost of one drowning death is $2 million. Additionally, Red Cross says cost-savings from effective PFD use through legislation, enforcement and general public adherence has the potential to not only save lives, but also save $200 million per year.
Mandatory wear has long been a point of contention between several boating safety organizations and numerous other businesses and associations involved in the recreational marine industry. Some groups oppose the notion of mandatory wear in all on-water scenarios (i.e. when the boat is at anchor or not underway). On the other hand, organizations in favour of mandatory wear point to annual drowning statistics, the lives that could have been saved by wearing a lifejacket and the stigma associated with lifejacket wear.
Nonetheless, understanding Canada's current boating safety laws, the Red Cross encourages Canadians to prepare before any outing to help prevent water-related injuries and fatalities. This includes assessing predicted water temperature, winds, waves and darkness; enrolling children in swimming lessons; registering for CPR and first aid training; wearing a PFD if operating a boat – increasing the likelihood of passengers wearing them too; and obeying the law by having properly sized PFDs for every passenger aboard your boat.