Gerding: Save your own skin: Slip on a life jacket while out boating

When I look out on Okanagan Lake at people boating more often than not they are not wearing life jackets.

When I look out on a hot, sunny Okanagan day at people boating off the shoreline, more often than not the boaters are not wearing life jackets.

To Cameron Taylor, that is leaving yourself unprepared for the unexpected out on the water, something he is determined to continue advocating for greater awareness.

Taylor is president of BOATsmart, a boat safety advocacy group based out of Peterborough, Ont.

His mantra for the start of every boating season is the same—don’t drink alcohol while out in a boat, everyone wear a life jacket or Personal Flotation Device, and obtain your Pleasure Craft Operator Card.

Taylor says, based on a study done last year by the boat builders industry, about 10.8 million Canadians are on a boat at least once a year. As of April, 3.2 million Canadians had obtained their Pleasure Craft Operator Card.

If you get caught driving your boat without that card, it’s a $250 fine, as opposed to the $49.95 fee to do the online card exam. And Canadian Tire offers a $10 discount taking it down to $39.95 for the test.

Boating fatalities have decreased on average over five-year segments since 1991 from 183 to 105, but for Taylor that is still 105 too many.

Worse, some 86 per cent of boating fatalities relate to not wearing a life jacket, which Taylor equates to not wearing a seatbelt when driving a car.

“Unfortunately in your area (Okanagan Lake), there have been some people who have lost their lives on the lake,” Taylor noted. “Boating can be a fun, safe activity if you follow some common sense choices.”

To help promote those safety lessons, Kelowna is the hub for one of three BOATsmart safety campaign teams, the others being in Vancouver and Nanaimo.

Spreading the lessons of safe boating, the team will be at the Canadian Tire store May 12 and 13 and May 19 and 20 to meet with the public.

“We want to reach out to boaters with our safety message and make sure to remind boaters to be prepared for the boating season. Make sure your boating emergency equipment is in working order and everyone in the boat has checked out on how to react if an emergency should occur,” Taylor said.

Don’t let boater’s vanity put you in harm’s way on Okanagan Lake this summer, Taylor suggests, as the risk isn’t worth it.