The warm weather has finally arrived and many are eager to enjoy the outdoors by getting out on the water. 

Every year throughout Canada, individuals suffer catastrophic and life-altering accidents during water recreational activities.  Many boating accidents in Alberta occur in the lake resort areas and other areas within National Parks, including Banff and Jasper.

According to the Canadian Red Cross, following 18 years of research on all deaths involving boats in Canada, approximately 40% of drowning deaths and 50% of water related fatalities result from boating accidents. 

The majority of boating fatalities involve smaller watercrafts, such as canoes and rowboats.  This occurs because the victims are often not wearing a lifejacket, they cannot swim, the water is too cold, or the victims were impaired by alcohol or drugs.


By law, every boat must carry a lifejacket or personal floatation device for each passenger on board.  Although they do not have to be worn while on the water, the lifejacket should be readily available in case of an emergency.

Failing to wear a lifejacket is greatly associated with drowning deaths, especially for those of the smaller craft variety.  Research from the Canadian Red Cross reveals that 88% of victims were not wearing a flotation device at the time of the occurrence.

Lifejackets are the best way to protect from cold-water shock or hypothermia.  This occurs when the body loses its heat and body functions slow down, leading to death.  The unexpected immersion in cold water can result in serious risk to life if a boater is not wearing a lifejacket, as a lifejacket provides thermal protection and keeps a swimmer buoyant.


It is highly recommended to stay sober during boating, both as an operator and as a passenger.  Alcohol reduces an individual’s reaction time, motor skills, depth perception and judgment, thus affecting the ability to operate a watercraft. 

According to the Canadian Red Cross, more than 40% of recreational boating deaths are alcohol related.  The Canadian Safe Boating Council reports that between 1991 and 2010 there were at least 375 deaths involving alcohol (suspected or confirmed) and unpowered vessels, such as canoes and rafts, in Canada.

Impaired boating is treated similarly to impaired driving under the law.

In a recent decision, Justice Peter West of the Ontario Court of Justice held that a canoe is a vessel for the purposes of the criminal charges of impaired operation of a vessel causing death, operation of a vessel over 80 causing death, and the dangerous operation of a vessel causing death.

In the case of R. v. Sillars, Justice West ruled that it was clear that as a result of growing concern that the public was not taking the regulations as set out in the Small Vessel Regulations under the Canada Shipping Act seriously that the term vessel was added to a number of offences in the Criminal Code in 1961, including the offence of dangerous operation of a vessel, impaired operation of a vessel, and operating a vessel with over 80.  The wording was added to incite Canadians to take the safe operation of pleasure crafts more seriously and therefore attach a criminal stigma to these offences.

Justice West stated:

[O]perating any type of vessel on a lake or river or sea requires some level of competency and knowledge as to the proper operation of the vessel and an awareness of the rules and regulations which govern safety on the water.

The danger of harm is to the person or persons operating the canoe, or the passengers in the canoe or other persons operating small vessels in the vicinity or those coming to assist when an emergency occurs as a result of the person operating the canoe being impaired, over 80 or operating dangerously.

The fact is, like impaired drivers, the impaired operation of a pleasure craft presents a continuing danger on the waterway.  The goal is to screen operators of a vessel before there is an accident or emergency situation.  These inherent dangers of operating a ‘vessel’ on the water affect all operators of small vessels on Canada’s lakes and rivers and territorial waterways.


The majority of boating accidents are entirely preventable.  The best way to avoid an accident and resulting injury is to practice boating safety measures.  Cuming & Gillespie LLP would like to provide the following recommendations:

  • Wear an appropriate flotation device for the type of boating activity and for your size;
  • Obtain appropriate training in boating safety and obtain a boating license;
  • Ensure that all safety equipment is on board before venturing out on the water;
  • Always check weather conditions and avoid boating in adverse wind, wave, and cold conditions; and
  • Avoid drinking alcohol while boating, even small amounts of alcohol can increase risk to boat operators and passengers.


The majority of injuries resulting from boat accidents are preventable when safe boating is practiced.  However, there are occasions when a boat operator’s carelessness is responsible for the boat accident and the subsequent death or injury to innocent individuals.  In these circumstances, a lawsuit can be filed for injuries suffered in a boating accident or by the family of a fatally injured person against the owner or operator of the boat.

If you or a loved one have experienced a serious injury or loss as the result of a boater’s negligence and you would like information about your legal options, please do not hesitate to contact the experienced and award winning personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP.  Please contact our office for a free case evaluation online or by calling 403-571-0555.  We look forward to helping you obtain the compensation you deserve.