Ontario Provincial Police say there have already been eight boating deaths on provincial waterways this season, which is almost three times as many as this time last year.

Investigators say none of the victims were wearing Personal Floatation Devices (PFD). Alcohol was likely a factor in all but one incident.

Six of the victims were canoeing or kayaking.

One was riding a personal water craft.

In one incident, a small boat swamped because it was overloaded.

The victims include two women and six men. All but one were between the ages of 21 and 28.

And that’s before the May long weekend has even started. “It’s going to be a busy weekend on the water and, unfortunately, it’s often a fatal weekend too for a lot of boaters,” says Brent McNamee.

McNamee is the CEO of Boaterexam.com, a Transport Canada-accredited course provider for boater safety and licencing. He says the single biggest thing boaters can do to protect themselves is wear a life jacket – actually wear it rather than just having it in the boat. “You know, they don’t work if they’re not wearing them,” he says.

Life jackets, or PFDs, have come a long way since the days of the bulky “keyhole” style life vests. Paddlers can now wear vests that leave the arms and shoulders free. And boaters over the age of sixteen can wear thin, non-restrictive vests that are barely noticeable until a CO2 cartridge inflates them instantly with the pull of a tag.

McNamee says boater safety needs to be practised all summer, but this time of year is particularly dangerous. As temperatures rise, it might seem like summer but the water is still so cold you can lose your ability to swim with ten minutes. “You can’t just float there for hours and expect to be rescued,” he says.

The other big risk factor on the water is alcohol. McNamee says most accidents happen during warm, sunny weather when people don’t realize how quickly and how much the alcohol is affecting them. “Leave the beer on the pier,” he says, even if you're just canoeing or kayaking. "In Ontario, if you get caught canoeing under the influence or driving a boat you're going to lose your driver's license as well."

The O.P.P. will be out in full force on provincial waterways this long weekend.