Nova Scotia

Life-jackets still the best way to prevent drownings, says lifeguard group

In the past three weeks, three people died in boating accidents in the Maritimes while wearing life-jackets. The Lifesaving Society says wearing life-jackets is the best option to stay safe on the water.

Despite recent incidents, drowning data supports the use of personal flotation devices in boating

The Lifesaving Society says using a life-jacket or a personal flotation device is the best way to stay safe on the water. (Submitted by Lifesaving Society)

In the past three weeks, three people died in boating accidents in the Maritimes while wearing life-jackets.

A 78-year-old man from Canaan, N.S., died in a boating accident  in Lunenburg County on Sunday morning.

In Prince Edward Island, Josh Underhay and his young son died in a canoeing accident in the Hillsborough River last month. Underhay was a candidate for the P.E.I. Green Party.

The exact circumstances of the incidents that led to these deaths are still under investigation, but police have confirmed that all three were wearing life-jackets.

Despite these examples, data suggests life-jackets or personal flotation devices are still the best way to stay safe on the water.

"The single most important thing for people to remember when boating is to wear a life-jacket," Barbara Byers, public education director with the Lifesaving Society, told CBC's Information Morning.

The Lifesaving Society estimates around 110 Canadians drown in boating accidents each year. (Submitted by Lifesaving Society)

The Lifesaving Society is a national organization that tracks and records drowning data from across the country.

According to its data, about 450 people drown in Canada every year, 110 of which are in boating accidents.

"A life-jacket buys you time to get either rescued or get to safety on your own," said Byers. "As most people know, a life-jacket keeps you afloat and keeps sure your face or your mouth or your airway are out of the water."

Byers said drowning when wearing a life-jacket is very rare.

"If people wear a life-jacket like a sweater and it's not buckled or zipped up, it could slip off," she said.

Hypothermia a factor, society says

Beyond that, another significant factor for a person who drowns with a life-jacket on in cold water is hypothermia. That won't happen right away, but anyone who falls into the water is likely to become breathless with the temperature change.

"It's called the mammalian diving reflex," said Paul D'Eon, the special projects director with the Nova Scotia chapter of the Lifesaving Society. "So stay calm. It takes time for your body temperature to drop."

D'Eon suggests trying to assess your situation and perhaps swimming for shore.

"A lot of times people drown when they're within 50 metres of shore. In cold water, you're better off swimming somewhere if it's a reasonable distance. Staying with the capsized boat if there's no hope of rescue might not be the best idea."

Alcohol and cannabis should be avoided

Byers said the takeaway is that while people can die with a life-jacket on, it's a very rare occurrence and it shouldn't lead people to think that they shouldn't wear one.

For kids, the life-jacket should be done up snugly, including the strap between their legs. Otherwise, it could come off over their head.

The Nova Scotia chapter of the Lifesaving Society has tips on how to properly wear a life-jacket.

Parents can pick up a loaner life jacket at Crescent Beach courtesy of the City of Surrey to make sure their kids are safe while swimming this summer. (Submitted by Lifesaving Society)

Another big issue in boating accidents is alcohol and cannabis, which figures in between 36 and 40 per cent of all drownings.

"We know the impact of alcohol on our judgment and our ability to drive a car," said Byers.

"It's the same thing with operating a boat, and in fact that's magnified by the rocking of the boat or change in weather."

With files from Information Morning