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Risk Factors for Recreational Boating Deaths in Canada

December 2, 2022

Recreational activities account for 86% of boating deaths in Canada. The Canadian Red Cross has analyzed almost two decades-worth of data on boating deaths in the country to determine the most common risk factors and make recommendations to improve boating safety.

Failure to wear a PFD

The number one contributing factor to recreational boating deaths in Canada is failure to wear a life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD). According to the research undertaken by the Canadian Red Cross, just 12% of victims who die after being immersed in water (either due to drowning or hypothermia) are correctly wearing a personal flotation device.

Having a PFD on hand but not wearing it is an inadequate safety measure—when someone suddenly falls overboard or their boat capsizes, particularly in adverse weather conditions, it can be nearly impossible to find and put on a life jacket. Furthermore, without a buoyancy aid, the individual may hyperventilate and inhale water when first immersed.

Boating under the influence of alcohol

Alcohol consumption is a factor in 40% of boating deaths. Even a small amount of alcohol can have a significant impact on a boat operator’s performance. Alcohol impairs judgement, reduces motor skills and slows reaction times. It also lowers the body’s resistance to cold, meaning that hypothermia can set in more quickly.

Environmental stressors on a boat can increase the effects of alcohol, meaning that operators who imbibe are often much more impaired than they realize. The sun, wind, noise, vibration and movement of the boat create a phenomenon known as boater fatigue that can quadruple the effects of alcohol. Dehydration from the heat and sun also causes people to absorb alcohol into their system more quickly.

Other risk factors for boating deaths

After failure to wear a PFD and alcohol consumption, some of the most common risk factors for boating deaths are standing up in the vessel, overloading, boat collisions, risky maneuvers and adverse environmental conditions. Environmental factors include strong winds, large waves, currents, darkness, and cold water, which is associated with 35% of fatalities in and of itself.

It’s also worth noting that men account for 90% of recreational boating deaths.

Learn how to stay safe on the water with Drive a Boat Canada

The Red Cross has concluded that the majority of recreational boating deaths are preventable and stem from neglecting the basic principles of boating safety that every boater should know. That’s why it’s so important to take a Canadian boater safety course—while it’s only a requirement for those who plan to operate motorized vessels, even passengers and those using non-powered craft can benefit from knowing what safety measures to take and how to react in an emergency.

Drive a Boat Canada offers an online boating course that can teach you everything you need to know to stay safe on the water. Get started today!