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Foolishness on the Water

Kayaker Matt Lemke, an employee of Frontenac Outfitters, says the wearing of life jackets is always mandatory on their kayak tours. Photo by Terry Sprague

We have to wonder how many more boaters’ lives we have to lose before the Canadian Coast Guard finally recognizes the need to upgrade its current regulations on wearing life jackets?  As we read of yet another boating incident where a boater drowned who was not wearing his life jacket, all we can do is shake our heads with dismay at a regulation that is as silly as if we insisted that every car had to have seat belts, but it wasn’t necessary to wear them, as long as they were in the car with the driver and passengers! I have commented on this in the past and it is like beating a dead horse. Surely there must not be a more useless regulation around than the one that specifies you must have a life jacket/PFD for every person in your boat, and then simply end it there by failing to include actually putting it on so it can do some good in the event of an accident. Currently, The Canadian Coast Guard Small Vessel Regulations state that every canoe or kayak must contain a sound signalling device (whistle), a propelling device (paddle), one buoyant heaving line of not less than 15 metres in length, and a Canadian approved life jacket/PFD for every occupant. We can only assume, under the current regulations, if boaters were checked, the heaving line would be measured to ensure that it conformed to the regulations, the sound signalling device would be checked to make sure it produced a sound, and the boat would be checked for the presence of a paddle. But, as long as the life jacket was Canadian approved, it wouldn’t matter if it were being used as a kneeling pad, seat cushion, or stowed away in a container somewhere, provided it was in the boat. Whether or not you were wearing it would be of no importance, the way the regulations read at the moment. I am sure we have all read of other boating fatalities where a body was recovered, and the life jacket was found floating somewhere nearby. How many of those lives, we wonder, could have been saved if actually wearing the life jacket was mandatory. Life jackets/PFDS are no longer the bulky, unwieldy pieces of apparel they once were. Most are quite comfortable and allow paddlers to paddle and perform manoeuvres with ease. If paddlers can function easily with them on, surely someone simply sitting in a boat as passenger should have no problem. While the law clearly states that it is not mandatory to wear a life jacket, that doesn’t make it right. As canoeing and kayaking, and other forms of water travel, become more popular, it is essential that this law, totally useless as it reads now, be changed. To claim wearing one is not necessary because “I am a strong swimmer” doesn’t cut it any more than someone refusing to wear a seat belt in a car because “I never have accidents.” Fortunately this year enforcement officers on the water are encouraging and even rewarding boaters who are seen wearing their life jackets. Rather sad when you have to be bribed to stay alive.

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About the Author: Terry Sprague became interested in nature at an early age. "Growing up on the family farm at Big Island, 12 miles north of Picton, on the shore of the beautiful Bay of Quinte, I was always interested in the natural world around me. During my elementary school days at the small one-room school I attended on Big Island, I received considerable encouragement from the late Marie Foster, my teacher in Grades 6 through 8. Her home was a short distance from where I lived and through the years she was responsible for developing my interest in birds. The late Phil Dodds, a former editor with the Picton Gazette, also a great nature enthusiast, suggested I undertake a nature column - a column I have submitted weekly since 1965. The column has since expanded to the Napanee Beaver and the Tweed News. Life has been good, and through the years I have enjoyed working with such nature related agencies as Glenora Fisheries Research as a resource technician, Sandbanks Provincial Park as a park interpreter and Quinte Conservation as a naturalist and outdoor events coordinator. As a nature interpreter, currently working from my home office, I now create and lead numerous interpretive events in the area and offer indoor audio/visual presentations to interested groups. Could one who is interested in nature have enjoyed a more exhilarating period in the work force?" Terry's website is www.naturestuff.net

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  1. Louisa says:

    I hear you on this. Being a strong swimmer doesn’t count in some situations. I recall my one and only attempt at tubing, and the thing went over on me and I was thrown downward into the water head first. I was so disoriented. It was really scary, but my life-jacket buoyed me up to the surface so I could sputter and cough out water at leisure while I bobbed at the surface. I was hearing about this same topic just this morning on the CBC radio, on an interview with an OPP constable working in the area of one of the Great Lakes. Maybe it’s one of those resistance of responsibility things. There’s a lot of resources used, and rescue persons maybe risking their own lives, for those who do not take care.

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