Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
Water Safety 101 |  Ontario Parks

Ontario Parks protect not only the land, but also a network of more than one million hectares of lakes and rivers across the province.

And we want you to be safe while you’re here enjoying them.

Here are some tips to make your next visit safe on the water:

On the Water: Tips for Boaters and Rowers

Before you even take off from shore, safety should be your first thought.

Even if you are a confident swimmer, a personal flotation device (PFD) or life jacket is a must. Sudden immersion in cold water can affect your ability to function, including your ability to swim. Wearing your PFD/life jacket will not only keep you afloat, but will also provide you with much-needed warmth until help arrives.

two rowers in a canoe

There is a reason why safety equipment is required aboard your vessel. It can save your life or the life of a loved one.

Small watercraft, such as canoes and kayaks, are required by law to have mandatory safety equipment, such as:

  • a personal flotation device (PFD) or life jacket by person (size appropriate for individual)*
  • 15 m floating rope*
  • an audible signaling device (whistle)*
  • a propelling device (i.e. an additional paddle)
  • a water drainage device
  • a waterproof flashlight (visual signal)

*also required for stand-up paddleboards (SUPs), rowboats and water bikes

paddle, pfd, whistle, bailer, rope

It’s also helpful to have a first aid kit, just in case.

While your PFD/life jacket may be a good cushion, it certainly won’t help you stay alive using it that way! So, get dressed. Make sure everyone on board is wearing their PFD/life jacket too (including your pup!).

Find more boater safety tips and the safety equipment needed for every size boat.

And remember: never drink while driving, whether on land or water!

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Renting a jet ski this summer?

Some Ontario parks will offer boat rentals this summer.

Walking along Fushimi Beach with MEC life jacketRent a motor boat? Don’t forget your navigation license!

Check each park’s web pages for information on available activities and facilities.

Borrow a PFD (personal flotation device)!

Borrow a PFD (free) at participating parks.

Are you thinking about purchasing a PFD or life jacket?

Life jackets and life jackets come in a variety of sizes and styles for both adults and children. It is important that you find one that is right for you.


Children’s PFD/life jacket sizing is based on weight, while adults are based on chest size. Always read the label to confirm that you have found the correct size. If possible, try one on before purchasing.

dog in life jacketChildren’s life jackets and life jackets also come with a safety strap that fits between the legs and provides a handle behind the head. The handle ensures that you can quickly grab them and pull them out of the water if necessary, while the PFD/life jacket remains in place. A dog’s PFD works in a similar way.

When putting on the PFD/life jacket, make sure all buckles and zippers are fully fastened and the jacket fits snugly.

It’s simple: the PFD and life jacket are designed to be worn. So use it!

In the water: tips for swimmers

We want everyone to have fun on the water and that starts with safety. If you are not a strong swimmer, wear a PFD/life jacket or stay out of the water.

Swim in designated areas

Parks usually have designated swimming areas that are easily identified by a line of swim buoys.

sunny beach with buoys

Inside the buoys, closer to shore, is where visitors are encouraged to take a dip, as these areas typically include gently sloping beaches and softer bottoms.

Swimming safety for children

girl in life jacketCarry a PFD/life jacket for younger children and those who cannot swim, and never leave them unattended near or, especially, in water, no matter how shallow it is. Keep an eye on them at all times.

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The Canadian Red Cross notes that “the absence of adult supervision is a factor in most child drownings,” regardless of whether the child can swim or not.

mother and son in the water

Things like water wings and inflatable tubes are great, however, they are not a substitute for a PFD/life jacket or full-time adult supervision.

Other swimming tips:

  • always swim with a friend
  • tell someone when and where you are going swimming
  • Test the waters with your feet, don’t dive right in
  • Do not swim under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

On the shore: tips for campers and fishermen

You can pass.

Campers at a backcountry site by the waterYou are on a canoe trip with friends. You have arrived at your camp and are tasked with getting water from the lake to prepare dinner. You get close to the shore and then… you slip.

The next thing you know, you’re at the lake. Although you are a good swimmer, you are surprised and short of breath. The cold water of the lake leaves you breathless. Your rowing buddies can’t see you from their spot by the campfire and you can’t call for help.

What saved you?

You still had your PFD/life jacket on from the day’s rowing.

It may seem a little extreme, but accidents like this can happen. That PFD/life jacket got you back to the surface, gave you time to adjust to the situation, catch your breath, and call for help.

Coastal water safety is not only important for adults, it is even more important for families with young children.

family of four fishing from shore

Children should wear PFDs and life jackets whenever they are near the water’s edge, whether collecting water, casting fishing line, or even searching for bugs along the shoreline.

Whether you’re near, on, or in the water this summer, always practice water safety so you too can be a lifesaver!

Remember: the life you save could be yours or that of a loved one.