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Wear your lifejacket on the water

I am writing this with much sadness. Fraser Rennie, a father, devoted grandfather, owner of York Durham Sign, member of the Kinsmen Club of Sutton and a fellow sailor, died on Lake Simcoe on Sept. 10, 2011. A robust man, full of spirit and crazy about sailing, he is mourned by the Lake Simcoe racing community.

Fraser and his adult son, Courtney — both experienced competition sailors — were racing Gryphon, their Farr 727 sailboat, in a Sail Georgina club race out of Jackson's Point on Saturday, in a very light wind on a golden autumn day.

From the bow of the boat, Fraser yelled back to his son,"I'm losing it," before falling off the boat and into the water. Did he simply lose his balance, or did he have a heart attack, or some other health problem, before he went into the water? There is no medical report at this time.

Others in the race say Courtney threw his father a floating cooler bag; Fraser started swimming toward it, but then went under.

Courtney jumped into the water and held Fraser up until another sailboat was able to pick them both up. A woman trained in emergency medical procedures was on the pick-up boat, and she began CPR immediately, but Fraser did not respond. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket.

Police investigating Fraser's death found an unopened package of new lifejackets on his sailboat. That is what the law requires — an approved lifejacket for every person on a boat.

A lot of sailboat racers have lifejackets on board but do not wear them, saying they will put them on if there is a problem. Clearly, there are situations where there is no time.

There is nothing to say that Fraser would have survived if he had been wearing his lifejacket. But take a moment to think about how frantic the situation must have been for his son and the three rescuers aboard the pick-up boat.

His son had to abandon a moving sailboat, at the risk it might collide with other boats, in order to jump into the water and bring his father to the surface. Then he had to support him in the water until help arrived. The rescuers had to struggle to lift him from the water and into their boat before he sank into the lake.

At the same time that I mourn Fraser's loss, I feel very sad for his son and my friends, the racers who had to deal with this situation.

With all due respect to Fraser, there is no excuse for not wearing a lifejacket when you are on the water — they come in every size and every price, for every type of water sport. If one style is uncomfortable, buy another.

If you have the money to operate a boat — of any size — you have the money to invest in a lifejacket that you will wear.

When you are on the water, wear your lifejacket and make sure every person on the boat is wearing one.

If you won't wear one for yourself, then wear it in honour of this great Lake Simcoe guy, Fraser Rennie.

And wear it  out of love and respect for your family, friends, guests on your boat — and the people who may need to risk their own safety to rescue you.

See you at the lake.

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