Sixty seconds in exchange for a life…

By Luc Bernuy, Professor of École de navigation de la Société de sauvetage.


The longest days of summer are upon us. The beautiful sailing season has already started for some and will soon begin for everyone. Without wanting to overshadow anything, we should not forget the nautical safety, which is a concern for all of us.

One of the first thing to remember is to prioritize boating safety at all times. Every summer, the Lifesaving Society puts on repeat their message for prevention. We always believe that accidents, or worse, drowning only happens to others. It is the magical thinking. It takes less time than a snap of your fingers to have a jet ski accident at 100 km/h. At 30 mph on a powerboat, we do not have the time to shout « warning » before straddling another watercraft or a bridge pillar (a real story, alas). Whether it is a pedal boat, a sailboat, a paddleboard or a luxury yacht, no one is safe. The concentration required to control a watercraft should never be altered or diminished.

In Quebec, boating is practiced mostly with family and/or between friends. Whether on a pontoon, a cruiser, a sailboat, or even a pedal boat, your loved ones are exposed to danger. The Lifesaving society encourages the person in charge of the boat to give a little safety speech before setting sail. You know, like on airplanes before departure. No one is saying it has to be done in a solemn tone. It can be given with a good mood or even call it your « Transport Canada speech. » This will keep everyone’s attention on board for at least… 60 seconds!

The Lifesaving society strongly encourages the person in charge of the boat to give a little safety speech before setting sail.

Sixty seconds is enough to give some basic instructions, such as:

  • Tell people that aboard a boat…. it moves! Indeed, many beginners do not realize it before they find themselves on the water. My advice: « One hand for you and one hand for the boat. » At first, they will laugh, but they will quickly understand ;
  • Open the trunk where the PFDs (personal flotation devices) are stored. Invite your passengers to wear them; after all, they is no shame in wearing one. Obviously, we recommend that you lead by example ;
  • Explain how to act if someone falls overboard. What to throw at them first, what to yell, what to point at them, etc. ;
  • Indicate where the extinguishers are located in case of fire (if the boat has one).

If passengers are still listening after 60 seconds, you can give other advices such as:

  • Indicate where is located the first aid kit ;
  • If someone feels like they will be seasick, ask them to relieve themselves overboard and downwind (and especially not in the toilet of the boat!);
  • Explain how to do an extreme emergency distress call (Mayday) on the VHF radio;
  • Specify that you cannot walk on the deck when the boat is in motion, except for essential maneuvers, then again, depending on the conditions of the lakes and rivers.

As the captain of the boat, your responsibility goes beyond that of others. We trust your judgment, because you know « More than others do. » You are a kind of guardian angel. Your passenger is allowed to completely trust your vigilance and believe that you will intervene, if necessary. Following unfortunate accidents, parties found themselves in front of a judge who was clear on this aspect: the captain is not only responsible for talking to his crew about the aspects mentioned above, but also to warn them about the danger associated with the activity. Whether, it’s to do watercraft, to tow an inflatable, to do sailing or other, the captain is ultimately responsible for all and any incident.

So those 60 seconds, will you take them this summer? ON EVERY TRIP? I think a human life is well worth a little 60-second speech.

Good summer on the water!

The Lifesaving Society recommends that you always wear your life jackets and PFDs. It will no longer be the time, once in the water by surprise, to ask one to be given to you! Moreover, certain types of watercraft (personal watercraft, wind surfing or paddleboard, canoes, kayaks, etc.) are exempt from certain equipment if the user wears their life jacket or PFD. More details on good boating safety practices are available on the Transport Canada website.

10% discount on certain Lifesaving Society School of Navigation courses: recreational boating, intermediate coastal navigation, advanced coastal navigation, astronomical navigation, first aid – general for boaters.

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