Child drownings nearly doubled in Canada last year, according to figures released Tuesday by the Lifesaving Society that show a year-to-year rise in water deaths across the board.

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Barbara Byers, public education director of the Lifesaving Society, says the most concerning stat is the spike in drownings of children under five. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Preliminary figures for 2010 show 404 Canadians died in water-related incidents, up from the 368 in 2009, the society said. Ontario had the most deaths — more than a quarter of the total — followed by Quebec, British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

While three-quarters of the deaths were among adults, most concerning was the spike in drownings of children under five, said spokeswoman Barbara Byers.

That age group had 22 reported drownings last year, compared to 14 in 2009. The rise is significant because of the size of that segment of the population, she said.

People aren't getting the message about water safety, Byers said. The report comes just days after three people drowned in Ontario, two of them teenagers.

Knowing how to swim and wearing a life-jacket while on a boat are key to avoiding being one of the hundreds of people who drown each year, the society said.

"People just don't realize the risk or the power of the water," said Byers. "Some people don't realize they need swimming survival skills."

Most toddler drownings in backyard pools

In Ontario, most toddler drownings were in backyard pools, Byers said, adding toddlers have an almost "magnetic attraction" to the water.

"They're not fearful of the water, and if there's a chance to get there, and especially if a young toddler is looking out a window and seeing a glistening pool or a lake, they're going to want to get there."

Eighteen children aged five to 12 drowned last year, compared to 10 the previous year. Twenty-two teenagers aged 13 to 17 drowned compared to 14 a year earlier.

The second leading cause of death among children, drowning can happen in as little as 10 to 20 seconds, said Byers. In many cases, it's a silent death.

"When you get in the water, and if you're a non-swimmer and you're struggling, you often instinctively open your mouth and you get a big gulp of water," said Byers.

"Unless you have the swimming ability to keep your head above water and spit out the water and tread water or float on your back, you'd go under again and it could be over very quickly."

Parents should be aware that turning their backs for only a minute, or failing to realize a house or cottage door is open, can lead to tragic results, said Byers.

Toddlers should wear life jackets: Lifesaving Society

To keep kids safe around the water, caregivers should keep children within sight and toddlers even closer — within arm's reach.

Toddlers should wear life-jackets near pools or at the beach, she said.

The drowning of four-year-old Avery Pringle in the Otonabee River near Peterborough, Ont., last July has inspired the creation of a swimming survival video the society is posting to YouTube.

On the video, Grade 3 students from Queen Mary Public School in Peterborough demonstrate the society's "Swim to Survive" skills — roll into deep water, tread water for one minute and then swim 50 metres. Canadians need those skills to survive a fall into deep water, the society said.

The video, which will be available in eight languages, will also be sent to cable TV stations across the country.

Also at high risk of drowning are new Canadians, the society said. Access to recreational swimming may not have been readily available in their home countries.

But newcomers to Canada who took part in focus groups said they felt swimming is part of Canada's recreational culture, and they don't want their children to miss out on the fun.