Taking steps to have a safe Boating Experience

Posted by Injury Lawyers of Ontario on June 15, 2016

According to a study conducted by the Canadian Red Cross in 2014, there are about 160 boating-related deaths per year in Canada.  In many cases, boating injuries and deaths are preventable with prudent planning and by adhering to common sense safety practices, such as wearing a personal floatation device (PFD). To ensure that boating excursions are enjoyable and not marred by injury to your friends, family or other boat occupants, there are simple and important safe practices that everyone, particularly the boat driver, should observe. The following are important practices and regulations that pertain to boating in Ontario lakes and rivers.

Before you go

Before setting out on a boating trip, particularly for longer trips on the open water, check that your boat is ‘seaworthy’ and equipped with the necessary tools and safety equipment.  It is a simple matter to check over a kayak or canoe to ensure that there is no damage to the hull, but in the case of a power boat, the operator should check over the boat hull, engine, navigation lights and so on, to ensure that everything is in working order and that there is sufficient fuel to get you to your destination.

All boats, including power boats, sailboats, personal watercraft (PWC’s), and human-powered boats (canoes, kayaks and rowboats) must have basic safety equipment. Boats should be carrying one PFD (of the appropriate size) per passenger, one buoyant heaving line and in most cases, bailers and manual propelling devices (such as paddles or oars).  If you will be travelling at dusk, night time or dawn, you need at least one flashlight and/or navigation lights. There are minimum safety requirements for each type and size of vessel as prescribed by Transport Canada, which may include such items as flares, a bilge pump and firefighting equipment. What you need to carry on board will largely depend on the characteristics of the vessel itself.  In any case, before any first trip in a new or leased boat, boat operators are advised to check the requirements for their particular type of vessel.

In addition, you might want to carry items like watertight bags, a tool kit, some spare parts, food, water, and first aid supplies. These supplemental items may not be required by law, but they may prove invaluable in case of an emergency.

Before embarking on any boating trip, even one as short as a few hours, a boat operator should always check the weather and marine forecasts to determine if the conditions are safe for your trip.  In the event of stormy weather conditions or large waves, consider deferring the trip and staying on land until conditions improve.  Many drowning incidents occurred when the boat swamped or capsized during rough weather, and these tragedies were, in many cases, avoidable.  Not surprisingly, studies of boating accidents show that the likelihood of drowning greatly increases for any passenger who is not wearing a lifejacket.

Boat trips on an unknown lake or river may present potential hazards such as submerged rocks or dangerous rapids.  It is always a good idea to check online resources, books or maps, for information on water hazards before taking a trip and thus avoid any surprises or a tragedy that may ruin a trip or worse, result in serious personal injury.

On the water

Always keep an eye out for other vessels and swimmers.  All boats must yield the right of way to a swimmer, and powerboats must concede the right of way to canoes and other human-propelled craft.  This is not only a matter of courtesy but also a safety issue, and the more room that you can give a smaller vessel or swimmer, the better.  If your boat trip will take you onto shipping lanes, check the guidelines and regulations defined by Transport Canada.

Continue to monitor the weather and water conditions.  At the sign of any potentially dangerous weather condition, such as high winds, fog or a lighting storm, smaller vessels should seek land until conditions are again safe.  Boat occupants who are not wearing their floatation device/life jacket should put them on at the first sign of deteriorating weather conditions.

There are several other dangerous actions that boaters should avoid, as follows.

  • Operating at high speeds. Like driving, you should always maintain a safe speed while boating. What is safe will depend on several factors like visibility, water and weather conditions, maneuverability of your own vessel, maneuverability of the vessels around you, and other navigational hazards, such as submerged rocks and floating debris.
  • Cutting in front of another vessel’s wake. The wake of a vessel, especially a large one, can be hazardous for the dock, other vessels, swimmers, and the shoreline. If you cut in front of another vessel’s wake or try to jump it, then you can easily capsize and sink. On the other hand, if it’s your boat that is causing the wake, you need to be conscious and considerate of how it will affect other boaters and swimmers.
  • Boating while under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol and boating just don’t mix. In fact, the influence of alcohol is present or at least suspected in at least 50 percent of boating fatalities. Keep in mind that driving a boat while impaired is punishable under Canada’s Criminal Code, so the consequences of even the first offense can last your whole life.

Not unlike driving a car, boat operators/drivers are responsible for the safety of their passengers and other boaters and swimmers. As such, if someone is injured due to unsafe operation of a boat, the ‘at fault’ person can be held liable for the accident victim’s injuries.

No one wants a recreational boating trip to result in tragedy.  Yet every year, many Ontario residents, particularly young men, die in boating accidents.  Injury Lawyers of Ontario have helped many accident victims who were hurt in a boating accident that resulted from negligence.  Call ILO today to learn about your legal right to compensation for any losses arising from your injuries.

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