Written By: William Harding and Aidan Vining, Summer Student
Late July is the ideal time to spend your day on the waters of Ontario. The warm weather has many people turning to their favourite water toys. Just last week, Hamilton police rescued three adults that were lost while floating on an inflatable flamingo for four hours in the middle of the night. While that story has a happy ending, not all who embark on water adventures are so lucky. There were 765 water-related fatalities in Ontario in the five-year period from 2012-2016.
This week, July 19- 25, 2020, is National Drowning Prevention Week. One of the goals of this week is to focus attention on the problem of drowning and promote safety practices that will prevent drowning from occurring. With that said, here are some tips to remember when hitting the water and engaging in your favourite water-related recreational activity.
Tips for ALL Water-Related Recreational Activities
Wear a Life Jacket. No matter what water toy you are using, a life jacket should always be worn. Life jackets are not one-size-fits-all. Before going out on your activity, make sure your life jacket fits you properly and is in working condition. Life jackets should be worn by everyone, even those who are strong swimmers.
Stay Sober. Alcohol consumption is a factor in most boating accidents and deaths. Engaging in water activities while intoxicated puts yourself and others at risk. Drinking and driving your boat can lead to criminal charges and result in the loss of your driver’s license.
Pay Attention to Weather. It is always a good idea to check the weather when you are planning to spend some time out on the water. Storms can form quickly, and you do not want to find yourself far from shore when one arrives. A quick check can save you from serious dangers.
Go With a Friend and Let Others Know. It is much safer to be out on the water with a buddy. If something goes wrong, the other person may be able to help or send for rescue. It is also important to let other people know where you are going and for how long. That way if you do not return, it will be easier to locate you.
Get Trained and Practice. No matter the activity, it is important to know your limits and to learn proper techniques. Even if you think you are good at a certain activity, it is important to practice and always use safety procedures.
Boating is a favourite pastime of many Canadians, with countless lakes and rivers to choose from and explore. While a fun activity for the family, an afternoon on the water can quickly turn dangerous when people are not fully prepared, or fail to take necessary precautions. As a personal injury lawyer and life-long boater, I have seen firsthand the devastating consequences that even a brief lapse in judgment can cause. A few safety tips to keep in mind include:
Carry a Safety Kit. Along with the tips provided above, you should always carry a safety kit in your boat. Safety kits should include a whistle, flashlight, flare, and bucket to expel excess water.
Stay Seated. Standing up in a boat makes it easier for you to lose your balance. It also makes it easier to tip smaller boats. Additionally, you may block the view of the driver.
Learn to Swim. You may think that since you are in a boat, you do not need to worry about learning to swim. Prepare for the unexpected and enroll in a swim class if you are planning to spend time on the water and have not learned to swim. It is never too late.
Properly Load the Boat. If you are carrying heavier items in your boat, make sure to load the boat evenly so that it is balanced. If you are carrying passengers, make sure you are not over-loading the boat and trying to fit too many people.
Enter the Canoe Carefully. If you can, have someone hold the canoe steady for each person that enters. Canoes can tip easily and this will make the process of entering easier. Try to crouch low, stay steady, and use the sides of the boat for balance.
Make Calm and Slow Movements. If you have to move around the canoe, try to avoid fast jerky movements. To help with this, consider tying your equipment to the canoe. If something falls into the water, you will be tempted to reach out and lean to grab it. If it is tied down, you can simply pull it back in.
Take Waves Head-On. Try to avoid having waves crash into the side of the boat. It is much easier and safer to take waves head-on. Also, be aware of changing currents and how they may pull your canoe to one side.
Practice Getting Upright. Kayaks are very easy to tip. Depending on the kayak, you should practice exiting the kayak underwater or getting upright under safe conditions. Practicing safe entry and getting someone to help you is also recommended.
Properly Dress for Submersion. The likelihood of tipping and getting wet is fairly high when kayaking. You should always prepare to get wet and wear clothing that is warm and fast-drying. Hypothermia can occur quickly and contribute to drowning.
Stand Up Paddleboard Tips
Use a Leash or Strap. Most SUPs come equipped with a leash to tie to your ankle. While they may feel silly, they can save your life. If you fall in the water, you can use the leash to pull the board back to you so you are not stuck in the water.
Be Mindful of Other Boats and Waves. SUP’s are great but they are not the easiest to use on larger waves. Some boats stir up significant wake behind their motors and boaters will not always consider the challenges it will create for you on your SUP. If you are faced with a rogue wave, try to brace for impact or drop to your knees.
Before heading out on your activity, try to be mindful of possible risks and take steps to ensure that you are safe while having fun. These tips are easy to implement and could save your life. For more reading on this topic, check out more blogs here and here – most importantly, stay safe and enjoy the water!