You’re Out of Reach

Being aware of your surroundings and the people you’re with can make all the difference.

Being Active and Safe around open water

The edge of open water along a river, lake or ocean attracts people of all ages.

If your community has a dock or wharf, or a nearby beach, it will be a busy place for at least three seasons each year. Children and youth may come to the water’s edge for play, for sports and for outdoor activity with their family and friends.

Young children

Children move fast, are naturally curious and will change activities very quickly. Think how quickly a child can slip or fall off a dock or a rocky shore into water. Are parents and older siblings watching children closely? In a group is there any "active supervision" going on or is it a casual approach to looking out for each other. Who is the Designated Watcher?

A child who is wearing a lifejacket will stay afloat until someone can rescue him or her. Learning to play in and around the water with a lifejacket on can be very fun and comfortable for children (and adults) of all ages. Cold water feels warmer when wearing a lifejacket and on a hot day a wet lifejacket can keep you cool and offer some protection from the sun. It is very relaxing to float around or play water sports when everyone has the same ability to float and to be safe and comfortable in the water.

Would it be worthwhile for parents to find ways to make the edges of open water a safer place to play? Are there barriers or signs that would help establish boundaries? Open Water Wisdom encourages communities to explore the possibilities of establishing a safe swimming area protected from boat traffic and where active supervision could be practiced.


Teenagers are venturing out on their own and with friends. They have to learn early how to make their own decisions. Are they discovering or imitating risky behaviours? What are their basic skills with a boat, canoe or kayak? Are float rafts or tow toys the latest craze among their friends? Can they swim well enough to rescue themselves or help their friends if they got into difficulty? Where are they learning the knowledge and awareness they need to survive? What wisdom is being passed on?

The Open Water Wisdom campaign challenges youth to be their own person and to not always do what the crowd is doing. With positive messages and reaching out to broader communities the campaign encourages youth to set an example and be proud of leading others (especially younger brothers and sisters).

Children and youth naturally want to be active, healthy and have fun with their friends. Sadly, in some communities, happy memories have been destroyed by the loss of young people due to injury or death by drowning. This affects everyone in the community profoundly. Survivors can carry the trauma for a very long time.

The Open Water Wisdom Campaign cannot teach all the skills or knowledge needed. After all, there is much to learn and experience. But it can encourage and empower individuals and communities to think and talk about safety in their community and begin changing attitudes and behaviours. Sometimes just one or two people at a time can lead a community to be active and safe when engaged in sport, recreation and play around water.

Daily changes

Weather can change often and quickly. What weather forecasting is available in your community? Identify sources online and through radio sources such as marine broadcasts. Also consult those who have local knowledge to help teach about the signs that can be read in the sky and on the water. These include the conditions of the clouds, the wind, the air and the waves.

Seasonal changes

In the spring, ice conditions on a lake may change often. Spring is always a season of danger for children and youth. They may want to "test" the ice to see if it is still frozen. After any warm spell, a lake that appears to be frozen can have "rotten ice"—ice filled with tiny cracks that make the ice unstable. Youth in your community need to be aware of the dangers of rotten ice. Slush is another danger that youth who are using a snow machine need to be careful of in the spring.

Changes in climate are producing new areas of open water occurring at different times. This can affect the safety of even well-used trails and locations on ice used for play, skating, skiing, fishing, etc.

Water levels fluctuate due to spring run-off, floods, dry spells, and control of river and lake levels by dams.

Safety begins with knowledge

Knowing a river means understanding and having respect for its currents, underwater objects and danger areas such as weirs, dams, rapids and falls. Knowing an ocean shoreline means that you are aware of where a riptide (undertow) can sweep away children or youth, many of whom may not be strong swimmers.

People who have lived beside a lake, river or ocean for a long time may have local knowledge to offer. How can those people in your community share their knowledge with youth? How can youth do things in different ways and also be role models for younger children in the community?

Safety Equipment

Here is a general list of the safety equipment that small powerboats and human powered watercraft must carry:

  • A lifejacket or PFD that fits each person
  • A buoyant rope (heaving rope) at least 15 metres long (about 50 feet)
  • An extra paddle or an oar; or an anchor with a 15-metre line
  • A bailer or manual pump (bailer must be at least 750 ml)
  • A way to make a sound signal (a whistle or air horn)
  • Navigation lights or a watertight flashlight as a visual signal

The need to stay cool and sharp

On open water, people sitting in a boat for a long time can suffer from altered senses and fatigue. It happens due to the effects of noise, vibration, sun, glare and wind, along with the up-and-down motion of the boat. These effects are serious, almost as if the person were drunk.

This is why it can take less alcohol to impair a boater compared to someone driving a car. If people from your community are drinking and boating, alcohol will affect their balance, judgment and reaction time in a dangerous way. They will also lose body heat faster if they fall into cold water.

If given a chance, today’s youth might want to find answers to questions that no one else is asking about alcohol and open water. Those questions include:

  • Is the way of the past also the way of the future?
  • Can we do things differently than the older generation?

If you are doing a group activity that involves youth, consider raising the subject of alcohol and Open Water Wisdom. You may help to save someone’s life by giving the group a chance to reflect on how alcohol can cause diving, boating and snow machine accidents. It doesn’t take much for simple fun to become reckless behavior with alcohol around the water.