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Preventing Boating Injuries and Fatalities in Petawawa

During the summer months, many Canadians visit the Petawawa area to walk the scenic trails and particularly, to swim and go boating in the rivers and lakes throughout the region.  Also very popular with tourists are the nearby white water rafting and kayaking adventures on the Ottawa River.   Petawawa advertisements describe our region as the ideal place for water-based recreational activities, due to its proximity to the Petawawa River, the Ottawa River and the eastern entrance to Algonquin Park.

For most Petawawa residents and visitors there are only positive memories of their summer recreational activities or cottaging experiences. However, the potential dangers of boating and swimming have had tragic consequences for an unlucky few. In Canada, boating is the leading cause of death from water related injuries including immersion.  Further, 86 per cent of boating fatalities occur in the course of recreational boating, and almost two thirds involve powerboats.   As is similarly the case for motor vehicle accidents, studies have revealed that the vast majority of boating fatalities and serious injuries are avoidable when safe boating practices are consistently followed.

Recent Petawawa area accidents

A Jet Ski accident in the darkness of late evening occurred in the summer of 2014 on the Ottawa River, just off Dow Island in Petawawa and resulted in the death of two people.  A 20 year old man and 25 year old woman were killed when their Jet Ski collided with rocks in the river. The man who was driving was an experienced boater and outdoorsman.   Another boater commented that the Ottawa River had many hazards in that area, including rocks, shoals and whirlpools.  As well, without knowledge of the specific topography of the water and no proper lightening on the boat, boating in darkness is a particularly dangerous venture.

Another boating accident happened when an inflatable raft capsized after being swept down the Deschenes Rapids in the Ottawa River near Britannia Beach   The Gatineau Police rescued one of the two men who was wearing a life jacket, and scoured the shore along the river but failed to find the other man. They were also unable to locate the Seahawk dinghy.  Both men were in their twenties.

The following summer, in 2015, a 24 year old man drowned after being pulled under water near Lac Leamy beach.  He was unconscious when he was rescued and CPR was immediately performed, but he later succumbed to his injuries in hospital. On the same day in the Rideau Lakes district, on Mosquito Lake, a 74 year old man was also found to have drowned while boating alone.

Causal factors in boating fatalities

The Canadian Red Cross and Transport Canada accumulated 18 years of boating accident statistics to develop an in depth report on boating accidents.  One glaring conclusion was that many Canadians and visitors continue to ignore or remain unaware of simple procedures for boating safety. Boaters often do not wear floatation devises, even though many are weak swimmers or cannot swim at all.  

General risk factors for boating include moving water such as rapids, rough water and strong winds.   Risk factors that are controllable or caused by the boat occupants are: standing up in the boat, overloading, colliding with rocks or other vessels, and dangerous manoeuvers.

People who would not contemplate drinking and driving in their motor vehicles, think nothing of piling up their boat with alcohol for their enjoyment while boating. Alcohol was a factor or a suspected factor in at least half of boating fatalities in the 18 years of the study, and of those who died, about one quarter had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limit.

Some boats are not equipped or built for anything but the most ideal situations, and certainly not appropriate for rough water. Also problematic is that it is not uncommon for boaters to go out without first checking the weather to ensure that the conditions are safe for the duration of their trip.  Capsizing results in about 60 percent of drowning fatalities for non-power boats such as canoes and kayaks.   For power boats, capsizing and falling overboard share the blame for deaths by drowning.  In many cases, these fatalities would not have occurred if the occupants were wearing life jackets, had proper training for boat handling, and/or had adequate swimming skills.

Only 8 per cent of those who died from a boating immersion accident in Ontario were wearing a properly fastened flotation device.  Yet, more than half of those who died in boating accidents were weak or non- swimmers.  These are extremely troubling statistics, as they clearly reveal that many people don’t feel compelled to wear life preservers despite the fact that they would be unable to save themselves if they for any reason end up in the water.

Death by trauma, which results from boating crashes, capsizing or other events, is overwhelmingly responsible for most of the fatalities involving large powerboats and jet skis.  However, jet skis account for far more than their share of deaths.  Further, about 40 per cent of powerboat and jet ski deaths occur during dusk or nighttime conditions. 

Boating Injuries

In boating crashes, fatalities mostly result from head injuries.  These types of accidents also cause spinal injury, fractures and major lacerations.  Many victims sustain multiple injuries in boating collisions.

Safe Boating Tips

Both historical data and these recent examples of boating accidents provide tips on what not to do while boating.  From a positive standpoint, there are certainly steps that all boaters can take to ensure that boating is not only fun but safe.  Boating safety experts advise that the following elements should be mandatory before anyone goes on the water:

·         Boaters should have the appropriate training for the particular boat and conditions.  For example, canoeing or kayaking in potentially rough water or rapids can be dangerous if the occupants are inexperienced paddlers.

·         Take all necessary safety equipment; the specific equipment required by law in Ontario differs with the size of boat.  At a minimum, the boat must have a bailer or manual water pump, paddle or similar propelling device, whistle or horn, 15 meter buoyant heaving line,   watertight flashlight or navigation lights if operating at night or under reduced visibility, and a fire extinguisher for motorized boats.

·         Wear a life jacket. By law, all boaters require a life jacket or floatation device for the appropriate weight class to be in the boat, but anyone lacking strong swimming skills should be wearing it.

·         Ensure your vessel is safe for use.

·         Appropriate swimming ability.

The most frequent cause of injury for boaters results from capsizing or falling overboard, which is another reason why swimmers and non-swimmers in particular, should wear a flotation device at all times or risk drowning.  Cold or hypothermia is a factor in almost 40 per cent of boating immersion fatalities.  These deaths can often be prevented by all or some of these factors: appropriate boating training, a safe boat, and dry or wet suits.

It is also recommended that boaters know life saving techniques such as CPR, first aid and warming techniques, which will allow them to intervene quickly and thus greatly increase the chances of saving someone who has already suffered injury.  The Canadian Red Cross also recommends the following items aboard: drinking water, first aid, sun screen, hat, dry clothing, sun glasses, waterproof matches and a knife.

Clearly, there is much that every boater can do to make boating a safe experience for themselves and their fellow boaters.  Two actions that have the most significant impact on safety are: wearing a floatation device and making sure that everyone on board is doing the same; and not drinking while boating.  Negligent actions like driving while impaired, if done while driving a motorboat, are a danger for more than just the occupants of one boat. 

If you were seriously injured or lost a loved one due to the negligence of another boater or motor vehicle driver, you may be entitled to compensation.   You can best find out about your rights and possible legal recourse by consulting with a personal injury lawyer. The Injury Lawyers of Ontario (ILO) law group are specialists in accident claims and ‘tort’ (negligence) law.   We offer experienced and expert representation and personalized support in every aspect of your claim.  Call us today for a no-obligation consultation.

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