Boating Fatalities Preventable

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 2:39 p.m. May 14, 2015

Piloting a boat recklessly on the water is just as dangerous as driving irresponsibly on the road, said Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) board member Marlene Stephens at this year’s Safe Boating Awareness Week kick-off May 14.

One woman and three men, one in TPS uniform, another in a life-preserving suit
Marlene Stephen, Constable Rich Baker, Auxiliary Sergeant Frank Dileo and Ian Gibson deliver safe boating messages along the waterfront

Stephens is fully aware of the sad consequences and pain that negligible drivers can cause as her husband, Paul Stephens, was killed by an impaired driver on Highway 404 in 1992. The advertising agency art director was on his way home from a company golf tournament when the collision occurred a short distance from the family’s north Toronto home.

“I can bear testimony to what happens when you drink and drive and that’s the reason why we are out here to support this campaign,” said Stephens, who began volunteering with MADD a decade ago and was the Toronto chapter president. “My husband died in July and that’s one of the reasons why we do a lot of awareness around this time of the year. We have the first long holiday weekend coming up and there are more people out on the road and in boats. We want them to get the message that drinking and driving do not go hand-in-hand. You can always have a drink when you dock, but not when you are driving a boat in the water or a vehicle on the road.”

North American Safe Boating Awareness Week, which runs from May 16 to 22, is aimed at promoting safe and responsible boating practices to the 14 million Canadians who take part in recreational boating in the summer.

Of the 17 boating fatalities last year in the province, 17 may have been avoided if the victims had been wearing a personal floating device.

Ian Gilson of the  Canadian Safe Boating Council delivered five key messages:

ake a safe boating course
Do not drink and operate a boat
Be aware of risk of falling into cold water
Ensure boat/equipment is in working order

“Before starting out the season, we want them to ensure they take all their safety equipment from the basement and put them right back in their boats so that they would be there should they need it, make sure their gas tanks are full, their boats are mechanically sound and that they are personally prepared by checking the weather,” Gibson said. “They should also give their itinerary to somebody who is responsible as well as make sure who should be contacted should they not come back as scheduled.”

Constable Richard Baker said Marine officers have already responded to some close calls in Lake Ontario in the last few weeks.

“We had an incident with a canoer who went into the water not realizing how cold it was,” he said. “He was wearing a life jacket and doing all the proper things, but he was still in trouble and was having a hard time getting out of the water. We had to respond and help him out.”

Baker said cold water shock is a major factor fatalities on the water.

“After a period of time in cold water, you will lose your ability to swim and stay afloat,” Baker said. “As a community service officer at the Marine Unit, I hear people talk all the time about how good they swim. With cold water, it doesn’t matter if you are a good swimmer or not because after a period of time, you will not be able to swim. That complacent attitude is potentially what kills people on the water.”

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