Good flotation for your safety!

Flotation device


Wearing a flotation device: a simple gesture that can save many lives!

With the summer sun shining so brightly, isn't it tempting to take a boat trip and feel the sea breeze? When you're in the great outdoors, there's no shortage of water-based activities to choose from. Swimming, paddle-boarding, boating - there's definitely plenty of fun to be had.


However, considering that drowning is the 3rd leading cause of unintentional death among Canadians aged 60 and under*, young and old alike need to be careful.


In other words, don't forget to wear your life jacket or personal flotation device (PFD).



By law, a boat must contain a lifejacket or PFD for each passenger. This law also applies to human-powered craft (sailboats, sailboards, paddleboards, kayaks, etc.).


Of course, for a lifejacket to offer protection against drowning, simply having it on board is not enough. "Approximately 90% of people who drowned as a result of boating accidents were not wearing a lifejacket or PFD" (Transport Canada, 2019a).


Yet around 25% of drowning victims are good or excellent swimmers. In other words, no one is immune to an accident.


Several factors can prevent a passenger from recovering from a fall.


Here are just a few of them:


Water temperature

If the water is cold, the victim could suffer hypothermic shock or hypothermia. Lifejackets and PFDs can help protect against these conditions.


Loss of consciousness

During a fall, the victim may have fallen unconscious after hitting his or her head. Wearing a lifejacket or PFD would enable them to float to the surface until they regain consciousness or are rescued.


The force of the current

The victim may quickly be swept away by the current, without sufficient strength to swim back to shore or to the boat. The lifejacket or PFD will help him stay afloat and in the right position.

In the event of a fall into white water, if you are swept away by the current, you should position yourself on your back, with your head raised above the water. Your legs and feet should be slightly bent to "absorb the shock of any obstacles. [Finally,] try to get closer to the shore by pulling the water to the side of your body with your arms" (Lifesaving Society, 2019-2020).


Unpredictable weather

Various types of bad weather can occur suddenly without leaving enough time to return to port without hassle. For example, a thunderstorm with strong winds and high waves. As this type of situation can be very dangerous, it's vital that every passenger wears a lifejacket or PFD.


In short, to considerably reduce the risk of an accident having serious consequences, it's crucial to make sure you have a lifejacket or PFD for each passenger before you set off, and that they're all the right size.



Which lifejacket or PFD should I choose?


Red, orange or yellow in color, lifejackets feature reflective stripes and usually include a whistle. This makes them easier to spot in the water.  


More effective in terms of protection and buoyancy, this Canadian-approved flotation device "allows the wearer to float with his or her head well above the water level. [It also] turns the wearer onto his or her back so that the head remains above water even if the wearer is unconscious" (Cook-Rees Memorial Fund, 2011).


PFD (Personal Flotation Device)

PFDs are more comfortable than lifejackets, so they can be worn for longer periods and allow greater mobility. They come in a wide variety of types, sizes and colors.


However, it is strongly recommended to choose bright colors to be more visible in the water.

Designed for more recreational boating, PFDs are less bulky than lifejackets, but don't offer as much buoyancy or protection. It provides enough buoyancy to stay afloat, but generally lacks the ability to turn an unconscious victim onto his or her back.


*Note that for a PFD to be approved in Canada, it must have a label stating that it has been approved by Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, or any combination of these agencies.


Before you start using it

Once you've purchased a flotation device, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of water activities. But not so fast!


Take the time to consult the documentation provided after your purchase. And keep your receipts, because it's very important to test devices in a controlled, supervised environment before you take to the water.


Prevention is better than cure

Fasten all straps and inspect for any signs of breakage or wear that could reduce their effectiveness.


Enter the water up to your chest.


Bend your knees and let yourself float.


Swim and move around to assess the device's effectiveness.


Make sure the device allows you to keep your chin above water and breathe easily.


If the test is inconclusive, and the device doesn't provide adequate protection, it's important to return it and get a new one. An unsuitable or damaged device will not protect you effectively.


Perform this test regularly, and replace the device as soon as it shows signs of breakage, wear or any other indication of reduced effectiveness.



There's no doubt that wearing the right flotation device is an excellent way to prevent drowning. That said, there are other precautions you can take to ensure safe and fun water activities!  


Are you alone? If so, swim in a supervised area. Many drownings could be avoided if the victim was accompanied or supervised. For more details: Instagram


Drowning is almost always subtle and silent. If you're watching children or friends, pay attention and avoid distractions. For example, leave the phone off.


Limit alcohol consumption. According to the Lifesaving Society, 1 drink is worth 3 on the water.


Take the time to learn what to do in an emergency. A short 4-hour training course will teach you the right thing to do in this type of situation.




drowning does not necessarily mean that large quantities of water enter the lungs?

Even very small amounts of inhaled water cause reflex apnea: the epiglottis closes by laryngeal spasm to protect the respiratory tract, preventing breathing even when the head is out of the water. In short, by wearing a suitable flotation device and taking all the necessary precautions, you are putting all the chances on your side to ensure your survival and that of your loved ones in the event of an accident.


Now that you know how to enjoy your water activities safely, have fun!

Learn what to do in the event of an accident at your own pace today, thanks to our 100% online training courses.




Canadian Safe Boating Council. 2019. "Lifejacket Addicts - Lifejacket".

Cook-Rees Memorial Fund. 2011. "The Choices".

Lifesaving Society. 2019-2020. "Fact Sheet 3: Wearing a PFD". Swim to Survive.

Transport Canada. 2019a. "Safe Boating Guide: Tips and Rules for Boaters".

Transport Canada. 2019b. "Choosing lifejackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs)".


Émilie Bédard

Communications Manager