Accidents are the leading cause of death of children in Canada.(1) Of those accidental deaths, drowning ranks second after motor vehicle accidents.(2) Powered or non-powered boating, is the second most common type of activity linked with drowning deaths.(3) Not wearing a lifejacket or PFD is the number one reason for boating related fatalities for all victims above the age of 4.(4)

In boating-related deaths for which personal flotation device (PFD) information was available, 81% were not wearing one at the time of the incident and an additional 5% were not wearing one properly.(5) Of those known not to be wearing a PFD or lifejacket, at least 34% had a lifejacket present in the boat but were unable to put it on during the incident. (6)

The most common types of boating incidents that led to drowning were capsizing (42%) and falling or being thrown overboard (29%).(7)

The Small Vessel Regulation (8) under the Canada Shipping Act(9) only requires that the proper sized life jacket for each passenger be on board a vessel. (10) Wearing a life jacket is not a requirement, not even for children. A change requiring mandatory wearing of PFDs has been called upon for many years by various organizations (11) including the Red Cross who concluded, following a twenty-year study on the use of PFDs that “enforcement of current regulations which require only the presence of an appropriate number of flotation devices in boats is relatively ineffective and inefficient, since it is costly, difficult, and invasive. A boat must be stopped, operators questioned, and devices inspected to verify whether the appropriate number of flotation devices are present in the boat. Enforcement of regulations requiring wearing of a flotation device should be considerably easier, less invasive, and less costly since observation of boat occupants should suffice in most instances.” (12)

More recently, the Canadian Drowning Prevention Coalition identified gaps in Canadian legislation and regulation in the Canadian Drowning Prevention Plan, 6th ed., specifically, “Small vessel regulations need to be amended to require that all children (0-18 years of age) wear a properly fitting, approved, floatation device or lifejacket while on or in a boat of any size for any purpose.”(13)

Canada’s regulations are also significantly out of date when compared with our US and some of our counterparts in the western world.(14) Almost every US State has a requirement for children to wear a PFD, varying only by age.(15) In addition, a pilot program was launched from 2009-2011 in the Northwestern region of Mississippi introducing regulations mandating the wearing of PFDs on certain recreational watercraft. Wearing increased among adults from 14% at pre-intervention 2008 levels to 68% post-intervention in 2011. For teenagers the rate went from 38% to 88%. (16) In the state of Victoria, Australia, wearing of a PFD was made mandatory for all boaters in small recreational vessels in 2005. Wearing increased from 22% to 63% between the pre-intervention year of 2005 and the post-intervention year of 2007. (17) The Red Cross concluded:

“If in Canada our legislators and other decision makers replicate the results in Victoria State, Australia, especially for youth and adult males in their productive wage earning years, cost savings should be in the range of $200 million to $1 billion per year. This would represent the single greatest decrease in Canadian immersion deaths and therewith the greatest increase in cost savings ever observed from a single water safety intervention.” (18)

Despite the high number of fatalities annually for Canadians of all ages, and the proven success of the legal changes in Victoria, Australia, Life Jackets for Life is not asking for a sweeping requirement for all Canadians to wear a PFD when boating. We are seeking support in protecting Canada’s most vulnerable, our children. Between 1991 and 2010, 79 children aged 14 and under drowned during boating activities (19) and 219 children between the ages of 15 and 19. (20)

There is little doubt that lives will be saved by this important child safety initiative and studies have shown that a large majority of Canadians boaters support some form of mandatory legislation. (21)

Join us in our effort to change the law and keep our children safe on Canada’s waterways.


Because losing one more child is one too many.

(1) University of Calgary, “O’Brien Institute for Public Health, “Raising Canada: A report on children in Canada, their health and wellbeing”, prepared for Children First Canada, 2018 at p. 12.
(2) Ibid.
(3) Drowning Prevention Research Centre, Canada, “Canadian Drowning Report“, 2019 edition prepared for the Lifesaving Society Canada at p.9.
(4) Ibid at p. 10.
(5) Ibid at p. 9.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Ibid.
(8) Small Vessel Regulation, SOR/2010-91.
(9) Canada Shipping Act, S.C. 2001, c.26.
(10) Supra, note 8 s.204, s.409, s.506.
(12)The Canadian Red Cross &The Cooke-Rees Memorial Fund “The Floatation Report, Lifejackets/Personal Floatation Devices and Boating Fatalities in Canada, 20 years of Research, 1991-2010 at p. 7; at p.72.
(13) Canadian Drowning Prevention Coalition , Canadian Drowning Prevention Plan, 6th ed. at p.9.
(14) see:;;
(16) Supra, note 12 at p.67.
(17) Ibid.
(18) Ibid. at p.10.
(19) Ibid. at p.83.
(20) Ibid.
(21) Ipsos Reid Market Quest, Canadian Boating Safety Report, 2014, p.55.commissioned by the Canadian Safe Boating Council at p. 53.
(22) Ibid at p.55.