Lifejackets are a must for all boaters.

Lifejackets are a must for all boaters.

Wear a lifejacket when out on the water

Many drowning deaths are completely avoidable, if only people would wear lifejackets or PFDs.

June 4 to 11 is Water Safety Week, and the Canadian Red Cross encourages parents and caregivers to be vigilant whenever children are around or in the water.

A particular focus is on the correct use of lifejackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs). Over the last 20 years there were 10,511 unintentional water-related deaths across Canada, and the major reoccurring factor is the absence of a lifejacket or PFD.

Findings from a report released this week indicate that 22 to 34 per cent of boaters do not have a lifejacket or PFD in their boat (one for each person on board), which is a legal requirement in Canada. It is estimated that 50 to 85 per cent of boating-related fatalities could have been prevented by wearing a PFD.

“Drowning is the major cause of death of infants aged between zero and five years,” says Carmen Ranta, head lifeguard of the Cache Creek pool. She agrees that people not wearing lifejackets or PFDs is a major issue.

“On hot summer days people will have them in the boat, but won’t be wearing them. Or parents will ensure that all the children have PFDs on and fastened, but don’t follow the same precaution themselves, which could be very unfortunate if there’s an accident. The safety of the adults is crucial to the safety of the children.”

The Canada Safety Council advises people to get in the habit of wearing a PFD at all times when on a boat. Having one close by is not good enough, as it is not realistic to expect you will be able to locate and put one on if adverse or unexpected conditions arise.

Ranta says that any lifejacket or PFD must be appropriate for the weight of the person wearing it, and must be correctly worn and fastened. Some PFDs have flotation support at the neck and head, and Ranta says that would be the preferred style. She adds that all lifejackets and PFDs should have a safety stamp or approval.

Many lifejackets and PFDs for children have an additional safety strap that will prevent the device from slipping off in the water. Ranta says that the Red Cross water safety instructors at Cache Creek pool would be happy to assist people with making sure that their lifejackets and PFDs are properly fitted and fastened.

She adds that the Red Cross swimming and pre-school lessons offered at the pool have a water safety component as well. “The pre-school lessons especially are very valuable when it comes to water safety instruction.”