Water safety abroad
- Paddle sports and small boats
- Board sailing
- Personal watercraft
- Sun protection
- Related links
- Other resources
For many Canadians, no trip abroad would be complete without spending some time on, in or under a warm southern sea. But whether you are a professional scuba diver, a surfer, a Sunday sailor or just like to paddle around at a lovely sand beach, you should be aware of and plan for the dangers you may face while you are enjoying the ocean.
If you are planning to take part in extreme water sports such as scuba diving or parasailing, upgrade your travel insurance coverage to include policies for adventure travel. If you are a scuba diver, you should consider taking out Divers Alert Network (DAN) scuba dive accident insurance coverage before you leave on your trip. It will cover everything from decompression illness to the loss of dive equipment. The DAN website also includes information on the effects of scuba diving on a number of diseases and medical conditions.
Before you leave home, research your destination on Internet forums and ask other users for advice and tips. Have your sports gear serviced and bring it with you to avoid having to rent equipment that may not have been well maintained.
Once you arrive at your destination and hit the beach, the same water safety rules apply whether you are there to swim, surf or snorkel:
- Watch the weather. In some tropical climates a storm can appear out of nowhere and a sudden increase in the wind can cause changes in the patterns of currents and waves.
- When possible, swim at a lifeguard-protected beach.
- Pay close attention to children and the elderly at the beach. Even in shallow water the waves can cause them to lose their footing.
- Do not drink and swim.
- Respect the water at all times. If in doubt, don’t go out.
- Never turn your back on the ocean. Sudden big waves can be really dangerous.
- Never swim alone.
- Learn how to swim in the surf. It is very different than swimming in a pool or lake.
- Watch for rip currents, strong narrow river-like currents pulling away from shore out to sea that can appear suddenly or intensify unexpectedly.
- Stay far away from piers and jetties. There are often permanent rip currents along them.
- Always swim close to shore.
- Avoid areas where boating is heavy, or areas near land or in inland lakes or rivers than can be polluted by human or animal waste.
- Stay off rocky coastal areas. They can be wet, slippery, sharp and crumbly, and waves can break over them, knock you down and pull you out to sea.
- Don’t dive or jump in if you don’t know how deep the water is.
- Watch out for coral. Do not touch it, which will hurt the coral, and do not step on it, which will hurt you.
- Be aware that you may meet jellyfish, stingrays, sea urchins and other ocean wildlife.
- Know the capacity of your boat (people and weight) and don’t exceed it.
- Make sure everyone on the boat always wears a lifejacket.
- Always check the weather forecast and local conditions.
- Be aware of water hazards in the area.
- Pay attention to what is happening around you as well as to what is happening on your boat.
- Know and follow the boating “rules of the road”.
- Take a boating safety course to learn how to operate a boat safely.
- Follow safe practices for all activities on the water: personal watercraft, water skiing and towed devices, diving or swimming, fishing, etc.
- Use a safety checklist to check the boat’s gear and equipment and orient everyone on board.
- Know how to handle your boat: navigation, safety, boat handling, line handling, anchoring, troubleshooting engine problems and emergency response.
- Don’t drink and boat.
- Know the navigation rules. Learn to read nautical charts.
- Equip your boat with a VHF Marine Radio that will generate your position in case of emergency.
- Use a kill switch lanyard while operating the boat. It will shut off the engine automatically if you fall overboard or lose your balance.
- Keep an anchor on board.
- Expect emergencies and be prepared in advance.
- Understand the risks of boating in cold water or cold weather.
- File a float plan with a family member or friend who can alert rescuers in an emergency.
- Be alert for swimmers who are not swimming in designated areas, paddlers and other small boat operators. You are responsible for your wake and any damage it may cause.
- Know that you have a responsibility to assist another boat in distress.
Paddle sports and small boats
- Take a hands-on lesson before attempting your first paddling experience.
- Do not stand or move about excessively.
- Know how to swim and to be able to perform a “self rescue” in rivers or waters with strong currents.
- Wear a lifejacket and keep it snug.
- Don’t drink and paddle.
- Never paddle alone.
- Be vigilant in observing your surroundings, especially when operating around powerboats. The wake from a powerboat can swamp the paddle-driven boat.
- Don’t overload your craft.
- Don’t paddle in extreme weather or water conditions. Check the weather conditions before you start out.
- File a float plan so that someone knows where you are going and when you will return.
- Load the boat properly. Keep yourself and your equipment low and along the centreline.
- Dress for an unexpected flip.
- Carry drinking water and use sunscreen.
- Carry rescue gear.
- Learn the basic concepts from an experienced instructor.
- Start board sailing in a small, confined area in light winds.
- Don’t go out in heavy winds, which may take you so far away it is hard to get back.
- Use a tether to keep you attached to the board if you fall off, but not as an alternative to a lifejacket.
- If you become too exhausted, take down the sail, furl it around the mast and lie on the board.
- Personal watercraft are subject to the same boating safety rules and requirements as a powerboat.
- If you operate a personal watercraft you must also be aware of local laws and ordinances on the age of the operator, hours of operation, special no-wake zone provisions, assigned operating areas and restrictions and speed and distance limits.
- Personal watercraft do not have navigation lights, so you cannot operate them at night or during times of restricted visibility.
Spending a sunny, or even overcast, day on the water can result in serious sunburn. If you are planning to spend a day on a boat, wear a high SPF sun block, a hat and sun glasses that block 98% of UV rays. For more information, see Sun and Heat Safety for Travellers.
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