Some water safety advocates say recent drownings in northwestern Ontario highlight the need for  legislation to make the wearing of personal flotation devices mandatory on all watercraft.

A canoeist  and paddle-boarder both died in the past week while not wearing life-jackets.

The injury prevention co-ordinator for Thunder Bay’s Red Cross said it's tough to hear about people who don't wear a life-jacket — and drown when something goes wrong.

"It’s very disheartening," Marge Buhler said. "You try and change people`s views on things as much as you can but, unfortunately, sometimes you just don`t reach everybody."


The Lifesaving Society's Barbara Byers says her organization wants personal flotation devices to be mandatory. (Supplied)

Lifesaving Society spokesperson Barbara Byers said federal laws demand personal flotation devices be accessible on all watercraft, including paddleboards. But they don`t specify people must wear them.

Byers said her organization wants life-jackets to be mandatory.

"Until it was a requirement, until there was a law to wear a seatbelt, wear a bike helmet, to wear a motorcycle helmet, the wear-rate is very, very low," she said. "Making something the law increases dramatically the participation."

Education vs. legislation

But Byers said that legislation for personal flotation devices is unlikely to happen anytime soon, as there’s little political appetite for it right now.

"There are those, I think, who believe boating is part of fun and it's part of their pleasure and their free time and they feel that a life-jacket is restrictive," she said. "But we hope that people would really re-look at all of the choices out there and realize they're not as restrictive as they thought. We all got used to ... wearing seatbelts and I'm sure once upon a time, it was very uncomfortable and very restrictive."

A public health nurse with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit said she's not so sure that legislation is the way to go.

Judi Marton said education is the key.

"If you really want something to work and work well, you want to make sure that the people are ready for that," she said. "People comply on their own, that's how you're going to get the best [results]