OPP remind public to stay safe on the water

The OPP would like people to remember that common sense strategies such as using your equipment properly will help keep summer water activities safe and fun for everyone. Lorraine Payette/For Postmedia Network jpg, KI

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Water safety should just be common sense. Always swim with a buddy. Always wear your life jacket when boating or playing on the water. Always use your equipment properly to avoid accidents and injuries. Don’t consume alcohol while out on the water. But somehow people forget and that is when bad things happen.

“The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Snowmobile, ATV, Vessel Enforcement team (SAVE) wants to increase safety and enjoyment of towing sports,” Provincial Constable Sean McCaffrey, SAVE officer, said in a release. “In 2007, a seven-year-old girl was fatally by a ski bar pulling a tube. Investigation revealed that ski bars are only designed to pull a water skier. They are NOT designed to pull tubes and other water toys. The risk is that the tube will fail, causing it to snap off. The tube can then become a deadly projectile causing serious injury or death to anyone in its path

“Following a media release in 2007 of this incident, several people brought bent ski bars and bolts to the Peterborough detachment lending further evidence to the investigation and also showing just how lucky they had been not having any serious incidents.”

According to OPP, the majority of water-related fatalities tend to occur between May and September each year, when people are most likely to be out enjoying different activities such as boating, swimming, fishing, and towing sports. The majority of these deaths are experienced while doing recreational activities and are easily preventable, with most of them occurring on natural bodies of water.

To help prevent injury or death, it is advised that people use their equipment appropriately. According to the 2018 Drowning Report, an average of 60 boating-related deaths occur each year in Canada, most of them involving small powerboats.

“This summer (2020) with many more people being on the water with older boats the OPP marine units have seen ski bars being used to pull people on tubes,” Constable McCaffrey said. “During our vessel safety checks, we use the story about (the above) incident to educate them. However, the message is not getting to a wide enough audience.

“The OPP has a well-established provincial marine program that has officers on the water from spring thaw to winter freeze up. The officers have a dedicated schedule for patrols and conduct daily vessel inspections to ensure the safety of vessels and their passengers on the water. The OPP marine units also perform search and rescue duties on an on-call basis.  We are the primary response to inland lakes and rivers and provide assistance to the Coast Guard on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.”

While wearing a lifejacket or using a personal flotation device (PFD) when boating or participating in any other boat related sport is strongly recommended, the legislation only requires that such items be readily available for each person on-board. In boating-related deaths for which PFD information was available, the Drowning Report states that “84% of those who drowned were not wearing one at the time of the incident and an additional 5% were not wearing one properly. Of those known not to be wearing a PFD or lifejacket, at least 28% had a lifejacket present in the boat but were unable to put it on during the incident. Alcohol consumption was a factor in 36% of boating-related fatalities.”

“While we want people to have a fun, enjoyable time on the water, we want them to be safe as well,” Constable McCaffrey said. “Alcohol and boating do not mix. The penalties for impaired boating are the same as impaired driving. Life jackets only work when you wear them – we’ve had three drownings in East Region over the past two weeks. All (were) preventable.”

To learn more, follow the OPP’s Twitter account at twitter.com/OPP_ER?s=20 and www.facebook.com/OPPEast/ for some marine safety video clips, and search #OPPSAVE within twitter.