Open Water

Many Canadians will participate in activities on the open water this summer. Sadly, tragic and preventable water-related fatalities occur each year. A Red Cross research report examining recreational and daily living water-related fatalities from 2009-2014 showed that an average of 457 Canadians drowned each year. Children 1-14 years accounted for 10% of deaths, while all males represented 80% of all deaths. Often, the risk of water-related injury or death when in, on or near the water is far greater than perceived. There are several steps that swimmers and boaters can take to stay safe when in, on, or around the water.


Never underestimate the power of currents. A boater, swimmer or wader in open water who underestimates the power of currents can be swept away instantly.

  • Open water is very different than swimming in a pool - distance is deceiving, and you often have to contend with cold water, waves, currents, drop offs, sandbars, water visibility, undertows, and underwater obstacles, as well as motorcrafts.
  • River currents, especially when concentrated around rocks, bridge pilings, and in hydraulics or whirlpools at the base of dams, have enormous power and can easily trap even strong swimmers.
  • If you become caught in a river current or fast moving water, roll onto your back and go downstream feet first to avoid hitting obstacles head first. When you are out of the strongest part of the current, swim straight toward shore.
  • If your boat has overturned, hang on to the upstream end of the boat.

Always swim with a buddy and check the weather conditions before venturing into the water.

  • Be aware of currents, water temperature, and depth when swimming in open water.
  • Wind and waves frequently come up suddenly, posing a major threat for swimmers and boaters far from sheltered waters in lakes and on the ocean. Advance verification and ongoing observation of weather conditions is essential.
  • Obey signs and signals (such as flags) posted on the beach which indicate whether the water is safe to enter.

Lifejackets are like seat belts - they only work if you wear them, and wear them properly.

  • Each year, more than 125 tragic and preventable boating-related fatalities occur across Canada.
  • Only 12.5 % of people who died were wearing properly fastened and fitted lifejacket
  • Alcohol was suspected or present at almost 50% of the boating related deaths.
  • It's not enough to have a lifejacket on board. It is unrealistic and unsafe to assume that a boater will be able to retrieve and properly secure a flotation device while falling overboard, capsizing or colliding with another boat or object.
  • Health and Safety Tips - Open Water