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.
The drowning report consistently shows that 80 per cent of
drowning victims are male and 95 per cent of victims were not
wearing a lifejacket or PFD.
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
Data obtained over the past 15 years indicates that 9 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.
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
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
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
The Lifesaving Society is interested in your feedback and
welcomes letters for and against this position. Send all
Barbara Byers, Public Education