The Lifesaving Society strongly advocates for the wearing of lifejackets or PFDs as the most effective tool to reduce boating-related drownings in Canada.
Choose It. Use It! Lifejackets have come a long way.
Data obtained over the past 15 years indicates that 8 out of 10 victims of boating-related drowning were found not wearing a lifejacket. Many boaters feel safe if a lifejacket is within reach. But think about it: you don't plan a boating accident, it usually happens suddenly, and trying to put a lifejacket on just before you capsize is like trying to buckle your seatbelt right before your car crashes - it's impossible.
A wider range of colour and style options for PFDs, and recent approval of inflatable jackets, creates opportunity to encourage male boaters to look at PFD choices.
What you need to know when selecting a lifejacket or PFD: For Adults, children and infants. Educate yourself on PFDs and inflatable lifejackets.
Being a strong swimmer is no guarantee you will survive, either. Anxiety, wave-action, weeds, clothing and especially cold water are all working against you. In fact, 94 per cent of drownings occur in water less than 20 degrees Celsius. Most don't die of hypothermia - they drown in the first minutes from cold shock. A person can inhale more than a litre of water in an instant gasp reflex. Continued gasping and uncontrollable hyperventilation impair movement and cause panic.
Two-thirds of people who drown are also within 15 metres of safety. The simple act of wearing a lifejacket can save your life by buying you precious time until someone can rescue you.
The Lifesaving Society advocates that lifejackets/PFDs be worn by all occupants and passengers of all types of recreational craft six metres or less in length, while passengers are on-deck and while the vessel is underway.
CSBC position statement
The Society is an active participant on the Canadian Safe Boating Council's PFD Taskforce and endorses the CSBC position:
That all operators and passengers be required to wear lifejackets or PFDs when they are in all sizes and types of kayaks, canoes and self-propelled vessels and all other types of craft that are 6 m. or less in length, while passengers are on deck and while the boat is underway.
Will it float? study
This position is based on research evidence from the 2003 Will it float? study that concluded that boating-related drownings warrant action. Specifically, that PFD wear is the risk factor to address to prevent these drownings and that mandatory wear legislation would be a realistic intervention to increase PFD wear. View the Will it float? 2-page summary or PowerPoint presentation.
This position is supported by 20 years of drowning statistics showing that 80% of boaters who drowned were not wearing a lifejacket/PFD and that 84% of boating-related fatalities occur among boaters in vessels under 5.5 m (powered and unpowered).
There has been strong support for PFD wear legislation. Since 2008, the CSBC has approached organizations involved in boating safety to ask for their position and practice regarding lifejacket wearing. The Lifesaving Society was the first organization to provide a letter of support. To date, 23 organizations have provided letters of support for mandatory wear legislation ranging from injury prevention organizations (e.g., the Lifesaving Society), the enforcement community (e.g., OPP), hunter and angler group (e.g., Nova Scotia Angler and Hunters), canoeists and kayakers (e.g., Canoe/Kayak Canada), government (e.g., Ministère de Education du Loisir et du Sport - MELS - Quebec), and Search and Rescue organizations (e.g., Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada).
Ontario coroner's recommendation
The Lifesaving Society regularly articulates its position in media interviews. In June 2011, the Society endorsed the recommendation from the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario (included in the 2010 Drowning Review), specifically that:
"The Government of Canada, Transport Canada should amend the Canada Shipping Act, Small Vessel regulation to require all pleasure craft operators and passengers to continuously wear lifejackets or personal flotation devices when on board vessels (powered and unpowered) less than 6 m. in length."
This recommendation was in response to the fact that 22/23 people who drowned while boating in the summer of 2010 in Ontario were adults over 18 years of age and were found not to be wearing a lifejacket.
In other countries
Other countries are taking steps or have already enacted legislation for mandatory wear:
- In the USA, the Boating Safety Advisory Committee recommended that the US Coast Guard initiate efforts for a regulatory project for lifejacket wear for recreational boaters while underway and riding in or upon personal watercraft regardless of length; human-powered vessels regardless of length; any vessel less than 18 ft. in length, and; for any person towed while engaged in watersports. This recommendation is based on research studies administered by the Army Corps of Engineers in selected regions in the USA with mandatory wear regulations. The studies showed increased wear rate in the region with mandatory wear law, a reduction in fatalities, no significant decline in boating participation and no adverse PR reaction.
- In Australia, the state of New South Wales instituted new regulations in November 2010 requiring all boaters to wear lifejackets on vessels less than 4.8 m, at night, on open waters, on alpine waters and when boating alone. In Tasmania, it became mandatory in January 2001 for all passengers on vessels 6 m or less to wear a lifejacket. Drownings have shown a steep decline since the law became into effect.
- In New Zealand, the wearing of lifejackets by all persons at all times is mandatory on recreational vessels less than 6 m long unless the skipper decides that it is not necessary.
The Lifesaving Society is interested in your feedback and welcomes letters for and against this position. Send all correspondence to
Barbara Byers, Public Education