Rule 1 / Case 3

Always Wear Your PFD (Lifejacket)

Amy Wagner March 11th, 2012 - Lake St. Claire, Ontario, Canada It was a beautiful day in Lakeside, Ontario, and the air temperature was an unseasonably warm 60F (15C). However, the water temperature in Lake St. Claire was still a brutal 35F (2C) when Amy Wagner, 18, and her twenty year old boyfriend decided to go for a romantic afternoon canoe paddle. They even brought a guitar with which he planned to serenade her. Amy, a high school senior, was dressed in a light spring jacket, blue jeans and running shoes. Her boyfriend was wearing a long sleeved T-shirt. Neither of them wore a PFD (lifejacket).

They were about 500 yards from shore and sitting side-by-side on the same seat when the canoe suddenly capsized in 6 feet (2 meters) of water. They tried but were unable to right the canoe and began screaming for help. They knew a sandbar was several meters away and that the water there was only 3 feet (1 meter) deep so they began swimming toward it. Her boyfriend led the way and encouraged Amy to keep swimming, but when he reached the sandbar and turned around, she was gone. Her body was recovered in 6 feet (1 meter) of water the following morning by an underwater search and recovery team from nearby Gravenhurst.

An indication of how severely debilitating even a partial immersion in 35F (2C) water can be, is the fact that Amy’s boyfriend lost control of his legs and collapsed repeatedly as he made his way towards shore along the sandbar in hip-deep water. Toward the end, he reportedly also lost his vision and had to follow the shouted instructions of people on shore who told him which way to go.

Case Note:

Every spring, beautiful days with unseasonably warm air tempt many people to venture out in small boats when the water temperature is still deadly cold. Although the sandbar was very close and she knew how to swim, Amy drowned before she could reach it.


Sudden drowning is very common in cold water immersion because cold shock causes a complete loss of breathing control which makes it very difficult or impossible to coordinate breathing and swimming strokes. It also greatly increases the possibility of inhaling water. Many people who can swim have drowned within 6-10 feet of shore due to cold shock and swimming failure. A PFD would have saved her life.

Major Contributing Factors

  • No PFD (Lifejacket)

  • Not Dressed For Water Temperature

  • Unable To Recover From Capsize

  • Unable to Call For Help

  • Unaware of Hazards

  • Paddling Solo