1.3.1 Boating-Related Fatalities

Boating-Related Fatalities

Eighteen years of research (1991 – 2008) reveals that boaters continue to remain unaware of or ignore fundamental yet simple principles of boating safety and many die. The report emphasizes the need to wear an appropriate flotation device. No boater should embark on the waters without the specific training, safety equipment, a safe boat, and swimming ability, all of which are essential for their chosen activity.


During this period of study, there were approximately 2,572 recreational boating-related deaths in Canada:

  • 2,436 (95%) resulted from immersion (drowning), and
  • 136 (5.0%) resulted from trauma.


Before we move past these statistics, let's take a minute to really look at what they tell us. On average, almost 143 people died while boating for fun each year, almost all from drowning.


The numbers of boating-related fatalities remain too high. It is hoped that increased emphasis on safety through boat operator knowledge, awareness, and compliance to boating rules will reduce these numbers. The primary responsibility of every boat operator is the safety of those aboard the vessel. This requires your senses and judgment to be at your best. It's no different for a boat than for cars - if you drink, don't drive.


Always wear a life jacket or PFD. Stay aware of your situation, as circumstances can change quickly. Ensure that your senses and judgment are unimpaired and ready to deal with an emergency.


Contributing factors leading to incidents and deaths on the water are:

  • Not wearing a floatation device (27%, almost 1/3 of the victims didn't even have one available)
  • Drinking alcohol (roughly ¼ of victims were above the blood-alcohol legal limit)
  • Lack of knowledge, training, or experience in boating


Stronger measures are required to motivate boaters in Canada to wear PFDs.


Most at Risk


According to statistics, persons between the ages of 15 and 74 are most at risk as they account for over 94% of boating fatalities. Most fatal boating accidents occur during recreational activities such as sport fishing, canoeing, and pleasure powerboating.


Small open boats less than 5.5 metres (18 feet) and canoes remain the two leading types of recreational boats involved in boating mishaps.


Although the total number of deaths related to the use of personal watercraft (PWC) is relatively low, the rate of death due to trauma is quite high.


Although everyone who goes out on the water has the responsibility for their own safety at all times, boat operators need to recognize behaviors or events that contribute to the majority of boating-related incidents and fatalities, so they know how to avoid them. Specific and unique dangers exist on all waterways. Boaters must be aware of how to avoid them altogether or how to deal with them appropriately if/when required. This awareness can be achieved through knowledge, education, training, and experience.


To state the obvious, the best way to prevent drowning is to keep the vessel afloat and all of its passengers safely on board. Losing your balance and falling overboard can happen very easily on a boat if proper procedures are not followed. With that in mind, let's look at how people accidentally get into the water.

  • To help prevent persons from falling overboard, the boat operator should avoid making erratic movements such as sharp turns, quick starts, and sudden stops.
  • Do not sit on gunwales, bow, stern, seatbacks, or anywhere else that is not designed for seating when the boat is underway.
  • Do not stand up or move around while the boat is underway unless the boat is large enough and has adequate safety rails or gunwale height.
  • If changing seats or moving around on a small boat, always stay low and along the centerline of the hull and maintain 3-points of contact with the boat (for example, two hands and one foot).
  • Ensure gear and luggage are stowed and secured in a place that will prevent tripping or getting caught up in it.
  • Wear non-slip footwear.
  • Hold on to a part of the boat at all times.
  • Boat design could play a significant role with guard rails etc. if the size of the boat allows
  • Stay sober and seated at all times.
  • In small boats, remain low and on the centerline of the hull.


To minimize the risk of capsizing and collision:

  • Ensure the operator is competent at operating the boat.
  • Ensure the boat is properly maintained, seaworthy and free from leaks.
  • Know where you are going and ensure that you are in safe water that is deep enough to accommodate the draft of your boat at all times to avoid collision with underwater hazards.
  • Practice all steering and sailing rules and always operate at speeds appropriate to the conditions.
  • Do not overload the boat. Follow the capacity plate rating for weight, engine horsepower, and the maximum number of persons and maintain proper distribution of the passengers and gear.
  • Never anchor from the stern, anchor from the bow only.
  • Avoid boating in rough water or bad weather, especially in small boats. Avoid high-speed turns, especially in rough water.
  • Do not lean over the side of the boat.


Statistics can be a great source of information and point out proven risk factors. Spend a little time thinking about the information and how it can help you reduce your risk on the water. Remember, more knowledge and applying that knowledge means safer boating.


Information in this section regarding statistics is provided from the publication Boating Immersion and Trauma Deaths in Canada: 18 Years of Research (© Transport Canada and The Canadian Red Cross Society, 2011)