Every year, Canadian boaters lose their lives when their boats capsize. Even if you are wearing a life jacket, finding yourself suddenly in the water with nowhere to go can be scary.
Remember, you are responsible for keeping the passengers on your boat safe at all times. Before heading out on the water, learn how to prevent capsizing and what to do if your boat does flip over.
Capsizing is when a boat flips over, either on its side or completely upside down. Smaller boats such as canoes and sailboats are a greater risk of capsizing than larger vessels. Fortunately, small boats also usually remain buoyant, so people in the water have something to grab onto while they wait to be rescued.
Unpowered boats like canoes and sailboats are the most likely to capsize. Common causes of boat capsizing include:
Boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which is illegal in Canada, can also be a factor.
If possible, upright the boat and bail out the water. Once most of the water is removed, climb back into the boat. Alternatively, if near the shore, climb into the boat and paddle to safety.
First things first: if your boat capsizes, do a head count and verify that everyone is wearing a life jacket. While wearing a PFD is not a legal obligation when boating on Canadian waters, it is a wise safety precaution that could save your life.
If your life jackets (PFDs) have drifted away, use any available objects like ice chests or empty soda bottles to stay afloat until you can reach the boat. Conserve energy while signaling for help using visual distress signals, a horn, mirror, shouting, waving, etc.
Stay close to the boat. If your boat is still floating, this is safer than trying to swim ashore. A capsized boat is easier for rescuers to see than a lone individual in the water, and the capsized boat will give you something to hold on to, to prevent you from drowning while you wait for help.
Be prepared to take appropriate measures if your boat capsizes in cold Canadian waters (under 18 degrees Celsius). Before heading out, learn what to do in case of cold water shock. If you think capsizing or falling overboard may be likely (depending on your level of expertise and boating activity) wearing a wetsuit might also be a good idea. Once in the water, do whatever is necessary to stay warm.
Now you know the basics of how to avoid capsizing, and how to take appropriate action if your boat should flip over despite your best efforts to prevent it.
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