Background Drowning rates in Northern Canada are more than 7 times higher than the Canadian national average. Contributing factors include: limited access to swimming pools for learn-to-swim programs; cold water, which limits recreational swimming opportunities and increases risk of accidental immersion; and low lifejacket wear rates. Increased lifejacket wear would prevent most of these drownings. Previous lifejacket initiatives have had minimal effect, such as poster/media campaigns, and infusion of many free lifejackets into communities without distribution, education, follow-up or sustainability plans. Targeting adults is challenging as personal habits and community norms are difficult to change.
Methods Operation Life Preserver is a three-year program initially aimed at school age youth to establish lifejacket wear habits which hopefully will remain into adulthood. Year 1 targets Northern Ontario, Year 2 targets Nunavik (in northern Quebec), and Year 3 targets Canada’s three territories (Yukon, Northwest Territory and Nunavut). The program combines lifejacket wear education, in many cases with provision of a lifejacket. It can be delivered at regional Enhanced Training Sessions (ETS) for Junior Canadian Rangers or in schools. Programs were created for grades 1–3, 4–7 and 8–12. Programs are offered by Canadian Rangers (local community members) to enhance message acceptance and sustainability.
Results At the first ETS camp, 120 students from 26 communities were given two lifejackets (total of 300) – one for the student, and one to give to a loved one back home – and taught how to build a simple boat reboarding device. School programs distributed 665 lifejackets to 830 students, in six schools in five Northern Ontario communities.
Future work The program involves continued follow-up by Canadian Rangers. Wear rate studies will be conducted in other communities before and after the educational programs are delivered to determine the effectiveness of the programs.
Funding Public Safety Canada’s NIF; NSERC, Canada.
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