Boating Fatalities On the Rise in Ontario

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  • It’s summertime and many Ontarians are taking advantage of the warm weather by enjoying our province’s beautiful lakes and rivers. Boating is a popular summer activity. However, boating accidents can result in injury, and in extreme cases, death.

    According to data from the OPP, boating fatalities reached an eight-year high of 31 in 2017. Falling overboard is the primary cause of boating fatalities.

    The Canadian Red Cross has reviewed 18 years of data on all deaths involving boats in Canada. Approximately 40% of drowning deaths and 50% of water related fatalities result from boating accidents.

    The majority of boating fatalities involve smaller watercrafts, such as canoes and rowboats. This occurs because the victims are often not wearing a lifejacket, they cannot swim, the water is too cold, or the victims were impaired by alcohol or drugs.

    The Canadian Safe Boating Council recommends the following safety tips to avoid accidents.

    Wear a Lifejacket

    By Ontario law, every boat must carry a lifejacket or personal floatation device for each passenger on board. Although they do not have to be worn while on the water, the lifejacket should be readily available in case of an emergency.

    Failing to wear a lifejacket is greatly associated with drowning deaths, especially for those of the smaller craft variety. Research from the Canadian Red Cross reveals that 88% of victims were not wearing a flotation device at the time of the occurrence.

    Of those individuals that drowned as a result of failing to wear a lifejacket, many had a lifejacket in the boat, but were unable to put it on during the incident. There are a number of factors that may make it difficult to put on, fasten or even find your lifejacket once a mishap while boating occurs. For example:

    • Treacherous wind and wave conditions can make putting on a lifejacket difficult or impossible;
    • Unexpectedly falling into water could make the lifejacket unreachable;
    • Cold water can greatly hinder the ability to put on and fasten a lifejacket in the water.

    It is also important that both adults and children are wearing lifejackets that are the correct size based upon the weight of the individual.

    In addition to helping someone keep afloat if they fall overboard, lifejackets are also the best way to protect someone from cold-water shock or hypothermia. This occurs when the body loses its heat and body functions slow down eventually leading to death. The unexpected immersion in cold water can result in serious risk to life if a boater is not wearing a lifejacket, as a lifejacket provides thermal protection and keeps a swimmer buoyant.

    Do Not Drink and Drive (Boat)

    It is a good idea to stay sober during boating, both as an operator and as a passenger. According to research by the Lifesaving Society, alcohol consumption was a factor associated with drowning in 39% of all cases of boat-related fatalities.

    Alcohol reduces an individual’s reaction time and judgment, thus affecting the ability to operate a watercraft.

    In any event, a boat is considered a “motor vehicle” and all laws related to drinking and driving directly apply to operating a boat. Individuals that are found to be impaired while driving a boat can be charged under the Criminal Code (section 253(1)) if their blood-alcohol concentration level exceeds 80 mg of alcohol per 100 mL of blood (0.08).

    Protect Our Children

    In Canada, drowning is the second most common cause of death for children under the age of 5. In fact, children can drown in as little as 1 inch of water.

    While boating, children should always be within arm’s reach of an adult and should be wearing a proper lifejacket at all times. Parents should always check the label of the lifejacket to ensure that it meets current national safety standards and has been approved by Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard or Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

    A child’s lifejacket should fit snugly and not ride up over the child’s chin or ears.  There should be less than 3 inches between the child’s shoulders and the lifejacket. Other safety features of a child’s lifejacket include a large collar for head support, elastic gathers in the front and back, a safety strap that goes between the legs to prevent the device from slipping over the child’s head, buckles on the safety straps, and reflective tape.


    As we have already suggested, the majority of boating accidents are preventable. The best way to avoid an accident and resulting injury is to practice boating safety measures. These include:

    • Wearing an appropriate flotation device for the type of boating activity and for your size;
    • Obtain appropriate training in boating safety and obtain a boating license;
    • Ensure that all safety equipment is on board before venturing out on the water;
    • Always check weather conditions and avoid boating in adverse wind, wave, and cold conditions; and
    • Avoid drinking alcohol while boating, even small amounts of alcohol can increase risk to boat operators and passengers.


    The majority of injuries resulting from boat accidents are preventable when safe boating is practiced. However, there are occasions when a boat operator’s carelessness is responsible for the boat accident and the subsequent death or injury to innocent individuals.

    Disastrous boating accidents often occur due to poor planning or lack of caution regarding potential rough weather conditions.

    If you or a loved one have experienced an injury or loss as the result of a boater’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your loss. Contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Jasmine Daya & Co. online or 416-967-9100. We offer free consultations to new clients.