Proposed Mandatory Personal Flotation Device (PFD)/Lifejacket Wear

Lifejackets

Dec 21, 2023

John Gullick, Manager of Special Programs, CPS-ECP

In July it was announced on the news that the Ontario government is set to pass a new bill that will make it mandatory for children aged 12 and under to wear lifejackets on boats that are under 9 meters in length and underway. Parents, guardians or other supervising adults could be subject to a fine of up to $200 if they do not comply.

We are yet to see what the definition of “boats” will be. Will that include all vessels, power, sail or human powered or will the definition be limited?

How will be bill be enforced or will enforcement officers just use it as an opportunity to educate and warn?

Currently, under Canadian law, every watercraft must carry a PFD or lifejacket, that is in good condition, the appropriate size and readily available, close at hand, for every person on board.

It should be noted that recreation vessel regulations fall under Federal jurisdiction so there will probably be some confusion around a Provincial requirement. It should also be noted that Transport Canada’s Office of Boating Safety is also in the process of considering a mandatory PFD/Lifejacket requirement.

When the Ontario government was seeking public input, among others, the Canadian Safe Boating Council, Lifesaving Society and the Ontario Provincial Police submitted research, statistics and recommendations. They have also provided the same information to Transport Canada in support of their own research.

Here are some of the findings from data sources:

From Boating Fatality Data:

  • Deaths primarily occurred among adults – 91% amongst adults 20 + years.
  • Children 12 and under, 1%.
  • Most deaths occurred amongst those in vessels under 6 meters in length (88%).
  • 55% of boating fatalities occurred in powered vessels and 45% in unpowered vessels.
  • Canoes 33%.

From Wear Rate Studies:

  • Wear rate statistics have been consistent in most studies including those from Transport Canada and the U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Vessel type has a significant impact on a boater’s likelihood to wear a PFD/Lifejacket. PWCs had the highest wear rate of 94-98 %. Motorized boats had the lowest wear rate of 18-25 %. Wear rates decreased as vessel size increased.
  • Age is a significant factor in the wearing of PFDs/Lifejackets. Children have a very high wear rate in studies. Children, 6-12 year olds 75%. Teens wear rate is 50-60% in studies.
  • Wear rate for adults is low, 18-29% and seniors 11%.

Let’s move on to the proposed consultations by Transport Canada.

Most of the following section is taken from a presentation by Geoffrey Tasker, Transport Canada Office of Boating Safety, presented at the Standing Committee on Recreational Boating, Canadian Marine Advisory Council (CMAC), November 14, 2023.

In January of 2023 a letter was sent to Safety groups, enforcement partners and industry associations seeking preliminary feedback on proposed mandatory wear criteria. This was not intended as a full public consultation, but rather giving the groups mentioned the opportunity to provide feedback on proposed criteria that could be refined before being put forward to the public.

Feedback was received from 73 respondents with an additional 89 comments from members of the public.

Later this year or early next Transport Canada, through it’s Let’s Talk Transportation platform, will begin seeking public feedback. This consultation will include extensive background information on the issue as well as collected data from TC and its partners.

No options will be mutually exclusive and combinations of options will be considered. There will be 60 days provided for this consultation following which, a What We Heard report will be publicly available.

Proposed criteria for Transport Canada’s Let’s Talk Transportation:

Age Requirements:

  • Mandatory wear for any person 18 years of age or younger on board a pleasure craft or
  • 14 years or younger on board a pleasure craft.
  • Mandatory wear for youth will not be exclusive.

Vessel Size Requirements:

Require mandatory wear for any person on board any pleasure craft.

  • 6 meters in length or below, or
  • 6 meters in length and below, only if an open deck design, or
  • 4 meters in length or below.

Vessel Type Requirements:

Require mandatory wear for any person on board:

  • Any motorized vessel, ie. powerboats, or
  • Any motorized vessel, if open deck design, or
  • All human powered vessels.

Considerations:

  • Would address concerns expressed by some Canadians calling for mandatory wear for children.
  • However, youth have been found to have the highest wear rates and lowest fatality rates.
  • Potential to substantially reduce fatalities.
  • Would impose mandatory wear requirements on both operators and guests on board power boats which were found to have the lowest wear rates among vessel types.

Next Steps:

  • Results from public consultation will be analyzed and used, alongside observation results and fatality data, to inform a decision on possible regulatory amendments for mandatory wear. No decision to mandate the wearing of PFDs or Lifejackets has yet been made and will not be made without formal notice.
  • Discussions surrounding this issue will continue at national and regional meetings of the Canadian Marine Advisory Council and Recreational Boating Advisory Councils.
  • This process will continue until at least 2025.

In my personal opinion and that of the Canadian Safe Boating Council, it is clear that, from the data collected over many years, mandatory PFD/Lifejacket wear should be required for all boaters on all vessels less than 6 meters in length while on deck and underway.

Based on one of the above considerations, to focus on youth 18, 14 or 12 and under, while a step in the right direction, will have a very limited effect of preventing recreational boating deaths due to drowning and would probably be more of a political decision rather than a decision based on the facts generated by extensive research.

In closing I will, as I have done many times in the past, I will ask you to consider five Points:

  • While boating wear your PFD/Lifejacket.
  • Don’t drink, take recreational drugs and boat.
  • Carry all of the required safety equipment and ensure it is in good working order.
  • Take a boating safety course.
  • Consider the effects of surprise cold water immersion.

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