'We've seen too many tragedies on the water,' What to know before heading out on waterways

Following a recent string of drownings in Simcoe Muskoka, police are urging people to take extra precautions before venturing onto Ontario's lakes and rivers.

Despite safety messaging, police patrolling waterways issued four offence notices to boaters for not having life-jackets over the weekend.

"COVID has really increased the popularity of people being on the water, and unfortunately, when you have that popularity, we have people on the water that don't have the skills to be on the water yet," said OPP Provincial Marine Coordinator Sgt. Dave Moffatt.

Locally, in the past week, four people drowned, including an 18-year-old Mississauga man who died while swimming in the Muskoka River.

Two more men, both in their early 20's also died after going down the rapids at the Port Sydney falls.

And late last week, a 61-year-old man died after divers pulled his body from Arnolds Bay, west of MacTier.

"We've seen too many tragedies on the water," said Moffatt. "We've had drownings in 13 feet of water, so people are thinking they can cross to the shoreline, and they don't make it."

Police say boating fatalities this year have also increased by 33 per cent.

"One drowning is too many, so the numbers are alarming," said Shannon Scully-Pratt with the Canadian Red Cross.

Experts say preparation is key, including making a plan on what to do in an emergency and wearing a personal flotation device, even for strong swimmers.

"If you wear it, then your more likely to survive because it's on and keeps your head above water," said Scully-Pratt.

The Red Cross said it's also a good idea to swim in areas with signage or lifeguards.

"It's safer not only are you watching your family in this guarded area, but the lifeguards are there to support you if an incident does happen," said Scully-Pratt.

Police advise boaters to read the Safe Boating Guide and make sure all safety gear is in working order, and life-jackets are worn at all times.

"By the time you need your life-jacket, it's already too late," the OPP stated in a release.