Men overwhelmingly more likely to die of drowning than women, finds Red Cross

TORONTO | June 06, 2016

A report released today by the Canadian Red Cross found that males account for 93 per cent of boating-related deaths. The Flotation Report, a study based on 20 years of research, reveals the absence of a personal flotation device (PFD) as the reoccurring factor in these deaths.

“Over the last 20 years there were an alarming 10,511 unintentional water-related deaths in Canada,” says Shelley Dalke, Director of Swimming and Water Safety at the Canadian Red Cross. “We know over 50 per cent of these tragic fatalities could have been prevented with the use of lifejackets, and yet over two decades of researching water-related deaths, we found that many victims continue to choose not to wear a lifejacket.”

Drowning costs us more than lives
There is a large economic impact to the family and to Canadian society as a result of drowning. The average estimated cost of one drowning death is $2 million. Cost-savings from effective PFD use through legislation, enforcement and general public adherence has the potential to not only save lives, but also save $200 million per year.

Other report findings include:
  • Seventy-seven per cent of boating deaths occurred during recreational activities like fishing, powerboating and canoeing – capsizing and falling overboard are the most frequent incidents.
  • Between 50-85 per cent of boating-related fatalities could have been prevented by wearing a PFD.
  • For boating immersion deaths during recreation and daily life:
    • At least 34 per cent of inexperienced boaters, 33 per cent of occasional boaters, and 22 per cent of experienced boaters did not have a PFD in their boat, which is a legal requirement in Canada.
    • Remarkably, only 4 per cent of non-swimmers compared to 13 per cent of strong swimmers who drowned were properly wearing a PFD.
    • Alcohol was present or suspected in at least 43 per cent of deaths among Canadians over 15 years old. Individuals who were above the provincial or territorial blood-alcohol limit were four times less likely to wear a PFD than those with no alcohol involvement.
    • Proper lifejacket use was five times lower among Indigenous people who died, and Indigenous incidents more frequently involved multiple victims, including women and children.
    • Over a third (38 per cent) of child boating victims were Indigenous and none of these children were wearing a lifejacket or PFD when they drowned.
“Our research found that the greatest effectiveness for preventing water-related fatalities is legislation requiring PFDs to be worn, coupled with efficient enforcement,” says Dalke. “But it is not only up to government and industry leaders to decrease preventable deaths. All Canadians must commit to wearing lifejackets and staying safe around and on the water this summer season, and year-round.”

June 4 to 11 is Swimming and Water Safety Week, an annual campaign that educates Canadians on how to prevent drowning deaths and stay safe in, on and around water. Water safety can be far from Canadians minds as they enjoy cottages, pools and boats during the summer season. The Red Cross is committed to helping prevent water-related injuries and fatalities, and encourages Canadians to:
  • Prepare before any outing – assess predicted water temperature, winds, waves and darkness.
  • Get trained – enroll your children in swimming lessons, and register for CPR and first aid training.
  • Wear a PFD if you are operating a boat – this significantly increases the likelihood of your passengers wearing them, and models safe behaviour to children on board.
  • Always have PFDs in your boat – an absence of them is a violation of current Canadian regulations.
About the Flotation Report
The Flotation Report contains 20 years of research into the incidences and causes of water-related fatalities and lifejacket/personal flotation use in Canada from 1991-2010. This report was developed and supported by the Canadian Red Cross in collaboration with the Cook-Rees Memorial Fund.

About the Canadian Red Cross
As the leading provider of prevention and safety training in the country, the Canadian Red Cross trains 2.4 million Canadians annually in emergency preparedness, first aid, swimming and violence and abuse prevention. Visit for research and tips, and to learn more about CPR, first aid and violence prevention training, and swimming and water safety courses.

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