GRAVENHURST - Wear your life-jacket. Don’t drink and boat. Carry safety equipment.
Lessons in boating safety.
MOCK RESCUE. Rescuers demonstrate rescue techniques at Muskoka Wharf on Monday, Sept.24.
Figuring out how to deliver those simple messages — and how to ensure people act on them — was on the agenda this week as members of the Canadian Safe Boating Council gathered in Gravenhurst for their annual symposium.
The three-day symposium, which is held in a different part of the country each year, brought together a diverse group of safety experts, gathered to discuss and learn from each other.
“It’s about sharing new ideas and sharing best practices,” said Cathy Sandiford of the Safe Boating Council.
“The SBC really sees itself as a convener. Everyone has the same goal: to help make boating safer.”
Whether it’s through education, regulation, changes in equipment or other reasons, boating is certainly becoming safer. Boating fatalities are down by 20 per cent this year over last, and long-term trends also show a decline.
As of last week, there were 14 boating fatalities in Ontario this year and 81 in Canada; at the same time last year there were 22 in Ontario and 98 in Canada.
In a typical year there are 120 boating fatalities in the country, down from an average of 130 a decade or so ago.
How to bring that number down further was discussed in a range of seminars, held over three days at the Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre in Gravenhurst. The seminars drew participants from police forces, the coast guard, the military, boater education groups, marine manufacturers, volunteer organizations, and others. There were also participants from the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand, all of whom presented information on boating safety in their countries.
Planning and delivering a boating safety message is complex, said keynote speaker and psychologist Philip Groff. It isn’t enough to simply tell people to wear their life-jackets or to refrain from drinking.
“We often do education very badly,” he said. “We think that if we print up a flyer and put it under someone’s windshield wiper, it’s going to change their behaviour.”
Really changing behaviour, he said, requires a much more sophisticated approach, one that considers who the audience is rather than focusing just on the message.
Barb Byers of the Lifesaving Society gave an example of doing just that. While men are four times more likely to drown than women, her organization put together a poster campaign that focused on the role women have in influencing men.
Through focus groups and email surveys, they devised a poster that promotes the use of inflatable life-jackets, which she said delivers a “one-two punch: one, the problem is relevant; and two, the solution is comfortable and stylish.”
Boaters weren’t the only ones being educated through the seminar. The event also featured a workshop on cold water rescue techniques for first responders, including area firefighters. Led by Dr. Gordon Giesebrecht, a professor of thermophysiology who sometimes goes by the nickname “Professor Popsicle,” the workshop focused on how people’s bodies respond to cold water, as well as best practices for rescuing someone who has fallen in.
Uneducated rescuers, organizers said, have been known to be injured themselves, while there are also many cases of people suffering cracked ribs while being rescued.