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Canadian kayak safety stats

I've just come back from an excellent, full-day search-and-rescue briefing seminar organized by the Ontario Recreational Canoe Association. (Despite the name, ORCA is the Ontario administration organization for our national kayak skills certification program.)

In general, kayaking has a good safety record in Ontario. According to the Ontario Provincial Police, there were no kayak deaths reported officially in 2003 and 2002 (although I recall three kayak deaths reported in the media during that time). There was one kayaking death each in 2001 and 2000. During those same years, there were an average of 9 canoeing deaths per year and 16 to 32 other boating deaths annually.

The underlying factor in all boating deaths (not broken down between boat types) was failure to wear a PFD. In 2003, in 82% of boating deaths, the victim was not wearing a PFD. In previous years, the figure was between 87% and 92%. Alcohol was a factor in over 40% of all boating deaths.

In Algonquin Park (a huge Ontario provincial park), drowning is the leading cause of death, claiming more victims than all other causes combined (heart attacks, motor vehicle accidents in the park, falls, heat stroke and lightning). Not one drowning victim was wearing a PFD at the time of the fatality -- with one possible exception. (They don't know, in that case, whether or not a PFD was worn.)

Here's the kicker: the average time between the capsize or the time that someone noticed the victim was in trouble was 10 seconds.

In other words, no matter how much rescue training we have, it's useless unless our paddling companions wear a PFD from put-in to pull-out, every time we're on the water.

Safe paddling