Drowning Research

Canadians enjoy an abundance of aquatic activities through thousands of waterfronts (ocean, lakes, rivers, and private pools) and recreational facilities. Tragically, hundreds of Canadians die each year in water-related fatalities.

The Canadian Red Cross is committed to preventing water-related injuries and fatalities. Part of this commitment is to provide other agencies and stakeholders in health promotion and injury prevention with research on drownings.

With the assistance of the Provincial Chief Coroner’s offices, the Red Cross is able to look at who is drowning and in what circumstances. This research is influential in determining Red Cross public education strategies and community initiatives, as well as identifying key messages and skills that all Canadians need to help them stay safe in, on and around the water.

Research released by year is listed below.


The Immersions Report presents risk factors and prevention from a review of 2,213 unintentional immersion deaths and other water-related injury deaths in Canada during 2011–2015, compared with 2,368 in 2006–2010. Analysis focused on activities and risk factors for immersion deaths, and personal, equipment, and environment risk factors, as well as trends.

The report found that the most frequent activities for immersion deaths are now aquatic, including swimming and wading. This is followed by boating, especially fishing. Current is an important environmental factor in water-related deaths in Canada. Personal risk factors such as cardiovascular disease, including chronic conditions as well as sudden acute events, were commonly reported, especially for adults 65+ years where cardiovascular disease and sudden acute cardiac events were reported frequently.

While immersion deaths have declined at nearly all ages, especially for children and for adult male boaters, it is essential to continue progress towards low to zero mortality, especially for non-aquatic falls into water among children.
Deaths by Immersion and Other Water-Related Injuries in Canada 2011-2015


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. Analysis focused on activity, purpose, and personal, equipment, and environment risk factors, as well as trends.The report found that boating accounts for more than one-third of immersion/drowning deaths in Canada, and has been the most frequent activity among 10,000 immersion/drowning deaths during the past two decades. Most boating deaths involve recreational activities and the vast majority of victims were males 15 to 74 years of age. The most frequent risk factor for boating deaths has been non-wearing of flotation, mainly personal flotation devices (PFDs).

This report was developed and supported by the Canadian Red Cross in collaboration with the Cook-Rees Memorial Fund.




Drowning Research: Water Safety Poll


Canadian Recreational Boating Trend Reports 1991-2008

Boating, Immersion and Trauma Deaths in Canada: 18 Years of Research, and Boating, Immersion and Trauma Deaths in Canada: 16 Years of Research provide an overview of 18 years of data on all boating related fatalities in Canada with an emphasis on recreational boating incidents. The main focuses of the reports are personal, equipment and environmental risk factors. The reports reveal that between 1991-2008, boating accounted for an estimated total over 3000 fatalities in Canada, 86% of which occurred while participating in some form of recreational boating activity.

The research was conducted by the Canadian Red Cross (CRC), with support from Transport Canada's Office of Boating Safety, to provide a profile for prevention, as well as a guide for survival for current and future boating enthusiasts, including owners and passengers of a variety of motorized and human-powered water craft. After all, boating safety is a shared responsibility.


10-Year Study on Drownings in Canada

This comprehensive study, the first of its kind, examines the circumstances surrounding drowning deaths in Canada between the years 1991and 2000. What sets this study apart from other annual reports of drowning statistics is the detailed analysis of long-term trends. This new study provides critical insight into the causes of drowning and makes detailed recommendations on how to prevent more deaths.

Module 1 – Overview

Module 1: Overview reviews methodology, identifies high risk population groups, activities and other risk factors such as equipment, examines trends, and offers recommendations to reduce the risk of drowning including education, legislation and enforcement. The remaining five modules explore specific subcategories of water-related fatalities in even more detail. 

Module 2 – Ice & Cold Water

The Ice & Cold Water Module of the study focuses on the causes of drowning related to ice and cold water immersion. An average of 200 people per year die as a result of cold water immersion and more than half of these deaths occur during recreational activities. Fishing, including recreational, commercial and subsistence, was the most frequent activity for cold-water boating incidents. Only one out of every five people involved in boating immersion deaths were reported to be properly wearing a flotation device.

Module 3 – Boating & Powerboats

Module 4 – Unpowered Boating

Ten years of research across Canada show that the vast majority of boaters who die - whether in powered or unpowered boats — have neglected basic principles of boating safety such as always wearing a flotation device, using protective equipment against cold immersion, and verifying weather conditions such as wind, waves, and water temperature. It is probable that most fatalities failed to obtain appropriate training in boating safety, and that many had inadequate swimming skills to cope with unexpected immersion.

Module 5 – Fishing

Fishing in Canada is a year-round activity. This report highlights the need for fishers to equip themselves with appropriate gear for each type of fishing. The report identifies the need for personal buoyancy gear not only for boaters but also for those who fish from shore, in the water or on ice, as falls into water or through ice are surprisingly common. Ice fishers, as well as those who fish during spring and fall, should also consider wearing thermal protective gear.



10th Anniversary Drowning Report

In 1991, the Canadian Red Cross joined forces with the National Association of Coroners, the Canadian Coast Guard, and public health professionals to provide a sound research base for development and monitoring of new water safety programs across Canada.

This document presents the pertinent facts on risk factors and prevention from a study of nearly 6,000 unintentional drownings and other water-related deaths, as well as for over 3,000 hospitalizations for near drownings in Canada from 1991 to 2000. Since innovative research-based training and prevention programs were introduced across Canada during 1994-1995, trends in deaths before and after this intervention are described.


If you have queries regarding our drowning research reports, please send your query to feedback@redcross.ca with the subject title: Drowning Research Question and your message will be forwarded the appropriate Red Cross member for follow up.