By Nathan Reid-Welford

Thirty of the 59 fatalities on Ontario waterways over the past two years have involved human-powered watercraft, according to a recent Ontario Provincial Police media release.

“Most of the vessels involved in fatal incidents we investigate are under six meters in length. Over the past two boating seasons, approximately half of them have been human-powered vessels such as canoes, kayaks and even stand-up paddle boards,” OPP Acting Sgt. Terri-Ann Pencarinha told the Post.

“There have been a significant number of deaths in non-motorized vessels in previous years as well.”   

According to the OPP, 52 out of 59 boating deaths, including those involving non-motorized vessels, were due to a capsizing or an occupant falling overboard — the same leading factors the OPP sees year after year when investigating boating fatalities.

The pandemic has also encouraged more people to take up canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding.

Human-operated watercraft are accessible, affordable, and require little to no licensing, making them attractive to beginners, especially during two summers of lockdowns.

“Although the pandemic has been instrumental in getting people outside to enjoy nature, it has also created some huge safety concerns. People are trying new hobbies and attempting activities outside their skill set,” Pencarinha said.

This includes inexperienced boaters not spending enough time developing skills and knowledge of their watercraft or neglecting safety precautions like personal floatation devices.

The OPP said that only four of the deceased were wearing lifejackets at the time of the incident.

“Unfortunately, far too many people feel safe just having them on board. What they fail to recognize is that many dangerous boating incidents happen within seconds, not minutes, leaving no time to grab a lifejacket to put it on. By the time you realize you need it, more often than not, it’s too late,” Pencarinha said.  

“Other people don’t wear them because they think lifejackets are uncomfortable and will take away from their boating enjoyment. The reality is that lifejackets and personal floatation devices have come a long way and are designed with comfort in mind.”

“The ability of a properly worn lifejacket to save your life on the water cannot be overstated. The data speaks for itself, which is that more than 85 percent of those who die in boating deaths were not wearing a lifejacket. We hope to see more and more people act on this data by wearing this proven life-saving device rather than just toss it aside or store it onboard.”

With the boating season well underway, Pencarinha had the following advice for boaters and paddlers:

“Familiarize yourself with the boat you are operating. Check the condition of your vessel and ensure it is properly equipped for the boating season, regardless of the vessel type. Being well-prepared is the key to safe and enjoyable boating. The most important thing a boater or paddler can do is to always wear a lifejacket.”

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