Boats are a huge part of life in the NWT, for both residents and visitors. Much of our history and culture revolves around the countless rivers and lakes. In summertime, those bodies of water are busy, abuzz with recreational boaters, canoeists, kayakers and more -- not to mention those who make their living from the waterways.

As a result of all this activity, drownings related to boating are a leading cause of preventable deaths in the NWT. Here, more people die from drowning than vehicle collisions, every year. Drowning accounts for 11% of deaths investigated by the Coroner's Office (all ages) and 17% of child deaths (age 0-14).

There are many things boaters can do to improve their chances of coming home safe and sound:

But the single most valuable thing that a boater can do, as boat operator or as passenger, is wear a properly fitting CSA approved lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD). The majority of boat-related fatalities in the NWT are linked directly to NOT wearing this vital piece of safety clothing.

Lifejacket Safety (video)

How Do Lifejackets Save Lives?

You might be a strong swimmer or a fishing expert, but there are plenty of common, regular on-water accidents where no amount of personal strength or skill will help you:

  • When capsized in rough water
  • When sinking in unexpectedly heavy sea conditions
  • When thrown from the boat as a result of a collision
  • When injured by rocks or submerged objects
  • When unconscious from carbon monoxide fumes
  • When tossed into freezing water
  • When thrown off balance while fishing
  • When unable to swim because of heavy or waterlogged clothing

A lifejacket must fit properly to be effective. Check yours for the following:

  • Is it easy to put on and take off?
  • Is it comfortable?
  • Can you move your arms freely and bend at the waist?
  • Is it the right size for your weight?

Children’s Flotation Devices

Children should wear a lifejacket when in, on and around the water, and parents should lead by example and wear a lifejacket too! But avoid putting any old adult life-jacket on children. There are approved PFDs and lifejackets designed especially for children. When you purchase a child’s approved flotation device, look for the following:

  • Canadian approval labels detailing the appropriate chest size or weight
  • A large collar for extra protection and support to the child’s head
  • A grab strap on the collar
  • Bright colors; yellow, orange or red are most easily seen
  • Sturdy, rust-proof buckles and zipper
  • Waist ties with snug-fitting drawstrings or elastic in front and back
  • A safety strap that fastens between the legs to prevent the device from slipping over the child’s head
  • Reflective tape and a plastic whistle
  • Make sure that the approved flotation device is comfortable, yet snug
  • Do not buy a PFD or lifejacket that is too large in the hope that the child will grow into it
  • Remember that a PFD can never replace adult supervision. Keep your child within arms length at all times when in, on or around the water

Visit the Canadian Red Cross Lifejackets and PFDs website for more information.

How to Care for a Lifejacket

A lifejacket’s safety value depends on proper choice, care and storage. Treat lifejackets like your own clothes, and they should last a long time.

  • Avoid leaving lifejackets in the sun for long periods (sunlight may fade colours and weaken fabrics)
  • When drying, do not use direct heat of any kind (it can damage the flotation material). Rather, hang lifejackets on plastic hangers in a ventilated spot – in the shade if outdoors
  • Look for signs of waterlogging, mildew, and shrinkage or hardening of the buoyant materials
  • Ensure they are totally dry before storing
  • If stowing them in your boat or a container of some sort, do not bend them or place heavy objects on top that might crush them
  • Lifejackets should be tested for wear and buoyancy at least once each year. Check their buoyancy regularly in a pool or by wading out to waist-deep water and bending your knees to see how well you float
  • Waterlogged, faded or leaky jackets should be discarded

To clean a lifejacket or PFD:

  • Use mild soap and water
  • Rinse thoroughly
  • Air-dry out of direct sunlight and away from direct heat