Boating safety paramount during long weekend

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For many Cumberland County residents, the Victoria Day weekend kicks off the season for recreational activities using boats and other watercraft, but it’s also the season with the greatest number of boating-related deaths, most of which can be avoided by safe practices including the proper use of lifejackets or personal flotation devices (PFDs).

There were at least 30 water-related deaths throughout Atlantic Canada in 2010 and already there have been several in 2011, according to the Canadian Red Cross. Most of the drownings and other water-related deaths in 2010 occurred between mid-May and mid-September, most involved recreational boating, all victims were male, and only two of the bodies recovered were wearing PFDs.

Thursday, May 19, is national Lifejacket Day in Canada, which the Red Cross uses it to highlight water safety and the importance of PFD usage. It also offers an online contest at www.redcross.ca/lifejacketday.

A Canadian Red Cross-led study examined 16 years of drowning data and found only about one in 10 people who drowned were wearing a PFD at the time. More than 90 per cent of the deaths involved males most between ages 15 and 54 and alcohol was a factor in nearly half the cases.

Before heading out in any watercraft, the owner or operator should ensure everyone on board, regardless of experience, swimming skills or physical fitness level, is fitted with and wearing a correctly sized lifejacket or PFD. Monitor weather and water conditions, head to the nearest point of safety if conditions change, and never consume alcohol before or during a boating trip.

Most Canadian Red Cross offices in Atlantic Canada can provide free short-term loans of PFDs for outings by people who don’t go boating often and may not want to incur the cost of buying them for one-time use.

It’s a simple effort, considering it can make the difference between life and death.

Organizations: Red Cross

Geographic location: Atlantic Canada, Cumberland County

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