Preventing Boating Accidents in Ontario

Edited by Admin
Preventing Boating Accidents in Ontario

Boating accidents can cause devastating injuries and death. Learn more about how to avoid accidents.


Boating Accidents


Each year in Ontario, approximately 24 people die in boating accidents on OPP-patrolled waters. This summer the trial involving Linda O’Leary, wife of famed Canadian entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary, has been getting intense attention from the media. The details of this boating accident provide an illustration of how quickly a beautiful evening on a tranquil Muskoka lake can turn into a nightmare.


At approximately 11:30 pm on August 24, 2019, the 18-foot Cobalt Bowrider that Linda O’Leary was operating struck a pontoon boat belonging to ER doctor and businessman Irv Edwards on Lake Joseph. Both parties had been at dinner parties; the O’Learys and their friend were heading home, while the Edwards party had taken eleven people out to stargaze after dinner. The pontoon boat was stationary, with the engine turned off. The O’Leary’s Cobalt slammed into its bow, killing one passenger on impact, and fatally injuring another. Three other people were also injured in the incident.


The cause of the crash has been a focus of speculation by the media and the public. The O’Learys maintain that the pontoon boat had its bright overhead light out, perhaps in order to reduce light pollution while looking at the stars. At least two passengers on the Edwards boat dispute that assertion. OPP officers who arrived on the scene smelled alcohol on O’Leary’s breath and tested her; the breathalyzer indicated an amber warning alert – high enough to trigger a three-day driving suspension, but not over the legal limit. O’Leary said she had been served a drink following the accident which accounted for the result. There is no speed limit on the lake, but there is some indication that the O’Leary boat was travelling too fast for the conditions. After the OPP investigation, Richard Ruh, who was operating the pontoon boat at the time, was cited for failure to display navigation lights at night, while O’Leary was cited for careless operation of a vehicle under the Canada Shipping Act. O’Leary has pleaded not guilty and trial commenced summer of 2021.


Wrongful Death


In addition to the criminal charges, O’Leary faces a lawsuit from the family of one of the people killed that night, Uxbridge resident Susanne Brito. The family’s statement of claim states that O’Leary’s “negligence” along with other factors led to Brito’s death. They claim that O’Leary was operating the boat at “high speed” and did not possess the proper training. The family is seeking $1 million in general damages and $1 million in punitive, exemplary and aggravated damages. The suit names two other defendants, Irv Edwards, who owned the pontoon boat, and Richard Ruh, who was operating it.


Preventing Accidents


Boating is an activity that carries obvious risk. Boating at night increases that risk. If both parties had taken greater safety precautions that night on Lake Joseph in 2019, it might not have ended in tragedy. About 43% of Canadians participate in boating, and Canadians own more than 8.6 million boats, so it’s easy to see that boating safety is of crucial importance to our society. Major risks are associated with boating include:

  • Alcohol use. Alcohol is a factor in at least 2/3 of boating fatalities. Alcohol causes impairment in judgement and cognitive function, slows reaction time, and makes it more difficult to survive in cold water, due to increased vasodilation that leads to loss of body heat. Although Canadian attitudes toward drinking and driving have shifted significantly in recent decades, there is still a prevailing tolerance for operating a boat while intoxicated. It is a criminal offence but is poorly policed and rarely enforced.

  • Failure to wear PFDs or lifejackets. Nine out of ten drowning deaths involve people who are not wearing PFDs or lifejackets. The legal requirement is that a boat must carry a properly-fitted PFD for each passenger, but several organizations are lobbying for the law to require passengers to wear them while on the boat. Most boating accidents happen suddenly, and there is no time to put on a PFD.

  • Speed. Each year powerboats get sleeker and faster, and the temptation to speed is difficult to overcome. But when a boat is travelling faster than necessary, particularly in conditions where visibility is less than 100%, collisions with rocks, docks, or other crafts can be deadly.

  • Operator inexperience. Inexperienced operators may not understand boating basics such as boating, such as admiralty law, navigation rules, and how to handle emergency situations. They may not recognize signs of dangerous weather conditions or hazardous waters.

If you or a family member is injured in a boating accident, be sure to contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. A serious injury can be life-altering, and you may need advice about how to proceed. Call Sokoloff Lawyers today and speak to one of our experienced and caring lawyers.