Safe boating awareness making a splash

North American Safe Boating Awareness Week may be wrapping up, but that doesn’t mean safe practices should be tossed overboard

North American Safe Boating Awareness Week may be wrapping up, but that doesn’t mean safe practices should be tossed overboard.

Safe boating was specifically celebrated May 17 to 23, to kick off the boating season for the estimated 16 million recreational boaters in Canada.

Although boating related fatalities have trended downwards in past years, there continues to be an average of over 100 boating related deaths annually in Canadian waters.

The goal of Safe Boating week is to continue to bring those numbers down by ensuring that Canadians who head out in any type of boat have the appropriate knowledge to help them have a safe day on the water.

Although it was launched with the unofficial start of summer for boaters (May long weekend), and a time when many boating fatalities occur, the message should remain on board throughout the season.

There are five key boating safety messages:

1. The importance of wearing a lifejacket

2. The dangers associated with drinking and boating

3. The importance of taking a safe boating course

4. Ensuring that you and your vessel are prepared before casting off

5. The risks associated with a fall into cold water

A 16-year Transport Canada study by the Office of Boating Safety reveals some pretty embarrassing facts about those who use the waterways for recreational purposes.

“It is astounding to note,” the 2010 report reads, “that in exposure to boating, where the most frequent injury incidents involve capsizing and falling overboard, non-swimmers and weak swimmers continue to boat without a floatation device, and drown as a result.”

Search and Rescue personnel know all too well that even consummate swimmers have great difficulty putting a lifejacket on once they’ve fallen in the water, especially when it is as cold as the water usually is in Canada.

The added issue of cold water shock is that sudden exposure triggers an automatic gasp reflex that causes people to suddenly inhale a litre or more of icy water. Without a lifejacket properly fastened, death is moments away.

Meanwhile, almost half of all boating fatalities are alcohol related.

What the experts find particularly astounding is that boat operators feel perfectly confident boating under the influence of alcohol. A Red Cross study found that 37 per cent of boaters in Canada drink alcohol every time they boat. About 66 per cent of boaters admit to partaking sometimes.

The consequences have been so serious that both federal and provincial statutes exist to try to slow down alcohol related tragedies on the water.