Vol. 81, No. 3Just the facts

Two children hold hands as they jump into a lake on a sunny day.

Water safety

Credit: Shutterstock


When the weather warms up, the number of drownings and accidents on the water increases. Following a few simple practices during the summer months could make the difference between a fun day on the water and a tragedy.

Canadian drownings

  • Drowning is the third-leading cause of unintentional death in Canada following car accidents and poisonings.
  • Between 2011 and 2015, 2,262 people lost their lives in Canadian waters, according to the Lifesaving Society.
  • In that same period, 72 per cent of drownings — about 320 deaths each year — happened in lakes, rivers and the ocean, while 21 per cent occurred in bathtubs, pools and hot tubs.

Risk factors

  • Nearly 80 per cent of drowning victims are male. The national drowning rate for females is 0.5 per 100,000 population compared to males at 2.1 per 100,000 population.
  • Drug and alcohol impaired driving, whether on land or water, is unsafe and illegal. Nearly 30 per cent of teenage and adult water-related fatalities involve alcohol.
  • The 2018 Canadian Drowning Report shows that most drownings occur between May and September and 20 per cent of all drownings happen in July.
  • More than half of drownings happen on a weekend, and most on a Saturday.
  • The risks of accidents go up when alone on the water. Across all age groups, one-third of drownings happen when individuals are alone.

Water safety

  • Not wearing a life-jacket or personal floatation device is a contributing factor in many deaths on the water, including 84 per cent of boating deaths.
  • In water below 15 degrees Celsius, life-jackets provide insulation and help avoid cold water shock and hypothermia — dangers even the strongest swimmers can't avoid.
  • Every boat in Canada, including canoes and kayaks, must have a Canadian-approved personal floatation device for each person, according to Canadian Small Vessel Regulations. Much like seatbelts, life-jackets are ineffective if not used correctly.
  • Operating a vessel with improper or inaccessible life-jackets and safety equipment can lead to a fine of at least $200.
  • Supervision is essential for safety. Children should be kept within an adult's sight and reach. A child can drown in as little as an inch of water and two-thirds of drowning deaths among children under 5 happen when supervision is absent.
  • The Red Cross suggests that pools should be fenced in on all sides and have a self-closing gate to deter curious children from approaching the water.
  • The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends swimming lessons for all children over 4. Nevertheless, confident swimming can't replace adult supervision.
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