In November 2016, a 19-year-old man tragically drowned when his canoe overturned at Westminster Ponds, in London, Ontario. The young man was not wearing a life jacket. Two friends who were also in the canoe during the late-night hours when the accident occurred, swam safely to shore. Falling into very cold water during darkness is extremely dangerous, both because hypothermia can quickly set in and also, darkness can prevent us from knowing which direction to swim.
Every year, particularly in May to September, many Ontarians die as a result of drowning, but these tragic accidents are almost always preventable. According to the Canadian Red Cross, almost 500 people drowned in Ontario from 2011 to 2013, which means that Ontario had the highest frequency of drowning deaths in Canada.
Our province is fortunate to be endowed with many beautiful lakes and rivers, which draw vacationers, cottagers and many others. As a result, it’s not surprising that most drowning deaths (about 68 per cent) occur in natural bodies of water, as reported in a 2010 study by Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner. However, what may be surprising for many people is the fact that more Ontarians tend to drown in bathtubs (about 12 per cent) than in private pools (10 per cent).
Drowning statistics consistently show that men are far more likely to be a victim of drowning, particularly between age 15 to 24 -- 80 to 85 per cent of drowning fatalities involve men. Adults over the age of 65 are also more likely to drown (and men are again over-represented in this group), and most victims of bathtub drownings are over 65. Backyard pool drownings most often involve children under the age of five.
Drowning fatalities most often occur during recreational activities, and boating and swimming are each associated with about one third of all drownings. Playing, walking, or falling near a body of water or ice, are also frequently associated with recreational drowning deaths. The following are the main risk factors or reasons for drowning.
- Failure to wear a life preserver (PFD) while boating
- Alcohol consumption
- Boating alone
- Falling overboard
- Weak swimmer or unable to swim
- Heart failure while swimming
An awareness of the ‘where’, ‘who’ and ‘why’ of drowning fatalities, can and should affect our actions with respect to safe practices around bodies of water. Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner reported that in 2010, 96 per cent of drowning victims in boating accidents were not wearing a PDF, which clearly points to the important of wearing a life preserver at all times. Here are some of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of drowning.
- Everyone in a boat should ALWAYS wear a PDF or life jacket
- Never boat or swim while under the influence of alcohol
- Always supervise young children, particularly under the age of 6, around bodies of water. It’s also recommended that young children always wear a PDF around water.
- Install a fence around backyard pools and ponds, with a securely latching gate
- Plan ahead when boating. This includes: check weather forecasts; ensure your vessel is sound and has the required features (such as oars, a baler, lights, etc.); know the geography of where you’re going (i.e. the location of rocks, dangerous rapids/currents, etc.).
- Take a boat operation course
- Learn to swim
- Install anti-slip mats and handles for bathtubs to be used by anyone at a higher risk of falling, including seniors of a certain age
- Learn CPR
We can significantly reduce the risk of drowning for our family and anyone who comes onto our property (which includes our boat), by being properly prepared and prudent. No one wants to look back and wish they could have done more to prevent a tragic accident. Let’s take personal responsibility to ensure that everyone is safe in and around the water this summer. If you would like to learn more about water safety, the following documents can provide further useful information.