Boating Safety: Don’t leave it to Chance

Whether you are a seasoned skipper, or a confirmed landlubber, the call of the sea (or lake! or river!) is strong as summer approaches. In Nova Scotia, unpredictable weather and diverse conditions mean caution & planning are necessities.

Boating Accidents: Facts & Statistics

Canadian boating safety statisticsAccording to a research report from Transport Canada and the Red Cross, fatalities due to recreational boating activities are on the rise, with small powerboats (≤5.5 m), canoes, and personal watercraft implicated in a significant percentage of immersion, trauma, and capsize accidents.

Even more startling, “85% of boating-related deaths could have been prevented by wearing a life-jacket or PFD.” Nova Scotia law requires commercial fishers to wear life jackets, but for recreational boaters, each watercraft has to have sufficient life jackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs) onboard for each passenger. But whether the passengers wear the PFD is still a matter of choice.

Here are a few tips for using a lifejacket or PFD:

  • Each member of the family or group should have and wear a lifejacket or PFD that fits correctly.
  • Bright colours are best for visibility, and the garment should have a safety whistle.
  • Use all the straps provided – particularly when outfitting children. The safety strap (between the legs) ensures the lifejacket will not float over the child’s head and face.
  • Buy your lifejackets or PFDs from a knowledgeable dealer who can advise you on the best equipment for your particular activity and body type.

Lifejackets and PFDs significantly improve your chances of surviving a boating disaster, but other steps are as important.

Know Your Stuff!

If you plan to operate a motor craft (including motorized sailboats and seadoos) earning your boating license is imperative. A Pleasure Craft Operator Card attests to your competency to operate a boat safely and responsibly, and is now required in Canada in all but very few circumstances. It is relatively inexpensive, and simple to complete the online course that emphasizes preventative safety measures.

Young Boaters

Special rules apply to young people operating motorized watercraft. These rules are very specific and restrict youth operators according to horsepower and the age of the youth. Familiarize yourself with these rules. Also, young people should be part of your safety planning process, including a lesson on operating your radio, and other safety equipment including flares and fire extinguishers. Introducing youth to the pleasures of safe and fun water-based activities is a thrill that will last a lifetime.

Charting a Course

Boaters should know how to read charts correctly. Charts, unlike maps, account for special conditions.  In Nova Scotia, an unforgiving coastline can hide unseen hazards. Luckily, The Canadian Hydrographic Service produced a comprehensive guide to reading charts in 2016. Additionally, your charts should be in good condition and up-to-date. A simple step in your planning might include laminating charts that you use most often. The charts will last longer, and still be useful in poor weather conditions.

Plan and Share your Plan

Plan your trip in advance and create a record of your plan. Letting others know your route and destinations will help in the event of an emergency. If you are new to boating, look for popular and safe routes before striking off into riskier or less-known areas. Even a day trip can become a crisis if the weather changes, equipment fails, or an accident occurs.

Review your route well ahead of your trip, and make sure to assess tides and weather concerns as needed. The best and most accurate weather forecasts come from official bodies such as Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. While traditional news channels can provide a general idea of upcoming weather, their predictions are less accurate, and not always updated in a timely way.

If you plan to travel further than yelling distance from the shore, a VHF Marine Radio is a wise investment, and will provide regular and accurate weather updates, as well as a means of communicating with shore, or marine emergency services, such as the Coast Guard.

Drinking and Boating Don’t Mix

Alcohol consumption is a significant factor in 65% of boating accidents in Canada! Boating while impaired is a criminal offense in Canada, and in Nova Scotia the penalties for impaired boating, are the same as for impaired driving. Drinking is permitted only under specific conditions, and these vary by province. Be sure you know the rules for your area.

Explore and Enjoy

Boaters in Nova Scotia have dozens of potential ports of call to choose from, including historic Lunenburg, the Bay of Fundy, and many others. Gorgeous inland lakes and waterways also provide endless opportunities to fish, swim, sail, paddle and enjoy natural beauty and fresh air. Visit Cape Breton’s stunning Bras d’Or Lake (actually an inland sea!), or fish the amazing Shubenacadie River at sunrise. Whichever water activity you choose, take the time to plan for a safe and memorable experience.

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