July 19 2017

It’s Cottage Season in Canada! That Means Boats and the Potential for Boating Accidents

Memories of a long hard winter fade into the past as Canadians begin to enjoy a favourite time of year – cottage season! Part of the fun includes water sports – sailing, power boating, water skiing, tubing, canoeing, kayaking, and swimming in our beautiful lakes. It’s never a bad idea to give some serious thought to water safety, and this is especially true when you are likely to be enjoying group activities that include young children.

Proactive Water Safety

Taking care to enjoy water sports safely means following basic safety protocols including the following:

  • Assess your swimming skills and the differing abilities of those in your group. It’s never too late to learn how to swim or to improve. If you plan to venture out on the water, the ability to swim is imperative. A kayak or canoe can flip over easily, and a sailboat can overturn. Knowing how to swim is the first step toward preventing drowning which, unfortunately, is a frequent cause of premature death, especially for children aged 1 to 4 and males aged 15 to 44. If you are a parent, make sure that your children learn to swim – it’s a life skill!
  • For swimmers, don’t swim alone, don’t jump or dive into shallow or unknown waters, don’t swim during a thunderstorm or poor weather conditions.
  • Even for good swimmers, it is common sense to make sure that you are wearing a life jacket when you’re boating. There may be circumstances when you are not able to swim back to the boat, or to the shore, and a life jacket will help you float on the surface of the water and be clearly seen by rescuers. Make sure that your life jacket fits you well and is properly fastened and secured.
  • Make sure your equipment is in working order and that you know how to operate the vessel, particularly if it’s a rental. In Canada, you need “proof of competency” – that you have a basic understanding of how to operate your boat safely and know what to do in an emergency. Transport Canada has listed what counts as adequate proof HERE.
  • Confirm there are enough life jackets or personal floatation devices on board for all your passengers. This is not optional, Transport Canada regulations mandate that there be “one Canadian approved personal flotation device or life jacket of appropriate size for each person on board.” Note: the regulation applies to motorized AND human-powered water craft like paddle boards.
  • Check the weather and boating conditions before you head out on the water. Keep in mind that the weather can change very quickly, so have a plan to get to safety quickly, if necessary.
  • Never head out onto the water alone, no matter how tempting a meditative solo journey might be.
  • Always let someone know where you are going, your route, and for how long you’re planning to be gone. Provide them with an emergency cell phone number.
  • Have a way to call for help – take your cell phone, fully charged, in a waterproof case and, for significant adventures, consider a personal location beacon outfitted with a flotation sleeve.
  • Always keep a close eye on young children with you, and make sure they are wearing properly fitted lifejackets and be prepared to perform first-aid procedures in case of emergencies.
  • Protect your skin by wearing plenty of sunscreen and protective clothing, and be sure to remain fully hydrated. Wear sunglasses when on the water and a hat when outside in the sun.
  • Alcohol (and drugs) and water sports don’t mix. If you are in an accident and impairment is a factor this will have a significant impact on the issue of liability which, in turn, can reduce any damages award you may be entitled to.

Boating Accidents in Alberta: A Cautionary Tale

A boating accident that occurred at Sylvan Lake a few years ago provides a cautionary tale, and also illustrates that there are many parties that may be held responsible if you or a loved one suffers injuries in a water sports accident. In this case, a group of six teenagers rented a 17-foot powerboat from a boat rental outfit operating at a main dock. They planned to go tubing behind the boat for fun. The boat rental outfit gave the teenagers only a cursory overview of how to operate the boat and did not explain basic safety procedures, such as how to kill the propulsion if there was an emergency.

One of the boys had an operators license, but he was an inexperienced driver and had never pulled someone on a tube before. He drove the boat, with two of the girls towed behind on a tube. During the time he was driving the boat he also drank two beers. Because of his inexperience, he got into difficulty and “froze” behind the wheel. The boat began careening toward the tube with the two girls. Frightened that they were about to be struck, the girls leaped off the tube into the water. One of the girls leaped into the water just as the boat was passing, and her foot struck the propeller and was nearly severed off. She was in great pain for a long time and was never able to walk properly again.

The injured teenage girl sued both the driver of the boat and the boat rental outfit. It seems clear that the inexperienced driver was at fault, but the boat rental outfit was also held to be at fault for not giving instructions on safe towing practices, including how to navigate sharp turns, and also failing to give instructions on how to use the “kill switch” to stop the propulsion. The driver of the boat and the boat rental outfit were each found to be 50% responsible for the damages suffered by the teenage girl. The boat rental outfit appealed this judgment, but they were unsuccessful on appeal, mainly because it was clear that their safety instructions given at the time of rental of the boat were inadequate.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a water sports activity, please CONTACT US for a free consultation. We can review the facts of your case and examine who may be responsible for paying compensation for the injuries suffered.