Safety advocates push for Canadian strategy against drowning

A number of people are still choosing not to wear a life jacket and it is resulting in preventable deaths across the country, a report released by Canadian Red Cross suggests.

Red Cross report suggests 65 per cent of drowning involved people not wearing life jackets

Dave Baker says he only wears a life jacket when the water is rough. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Drowning prevention activists are calling for a national strategy to reduce the number of deaths on Canadian waters.

Boaters continue to head out without wearing life jackets, resulting in preventable deaths across the country, a report released by Canadian Red Cross suggests.

Researchers found one third of the 10,000 unintentional water-related deaths involved boats. Of those deaths, 65 per cent involved people not wearing life jackets.

The report looked at how boaters were using life jackets between 1991 and 2010.

"For people wearing life jackets, on average, there's about 10 per cent who die regardless of the fact that they were wearing a life jacket," said Shelley Dalke, the water safety program director with the Canadian Red Cross. "So we're looking at approximately 90 per cent who potentially could have been saved."

National drowning strategy

The injury prevention group Parachute is calling for a national drowning safety strategy. Pamela Fuselli, the groups vice president, said some improvements have been made over the years, but not enough has been done.

"We've definitely been making inroads in certain areas of drowning prevention, but there are still too many deaths and too many injuries that can be prevented," she told CBC News.

During the past two decades, between 2,000 to 3,000 boating immersion deaths could have been prevented if life jackets were worn, the Red Cross reports. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

Wearing a life jacket while in a boat should become law, Fuselli said. Right now, boaters just have to have a life jacket in the boat.

In order for a national strategy to work, Fuselli wants to see groups like Parachute and the Red Cross collaborate with legislators, law enforcement and the public.

"That's where you get the most high quality kind of strategy," Fuselli said.

Unwillingness to wear life jacket

Most boaters in Windsor, Ont. aren't shy to admit they don't wear a life jacket on the water. Perry Pettipas stows his life jackets in the lower deck of the boat and admits it would be difficult to grab them in an emergency.

"It's too much of an inconvenience to wear it on a daily basis," he said.

Dave Baker also has his life jackets stored out of sight.

"The only time I put my life jacket on a boat this size would be in rougher water," he said.

The report also suggests male youth and adults are the primary risk group for boating deaths. Over the two decades studied, 88 per cent of victims were males 15-74 years of age.

"We want people to choose to wear a life jacket," said Dalke. "When people are going in to the boat, this should be a really simple choice, put the life jacket on, increase your chances of survival."