TORONTO - Newcomers to Canada have a higher risk of drowning in boating and swimming mishaps than those born in the country, a study has found.

The study, commissioned by the Lifesaving Society, focused on newcomers from China, South Asia and Southeast Asia, and found people in Canada for less than five years are at highest risk of drowning.

Even though 20 per cent of immigrants said they cannot swim, 79 per cent reported to the study that they planned to spend time around or on the water this summer.

They could be putting themselves at risk by making those plans, considering a third of the respondents who weren't born in Canada are afraid of water and half worry their kids could drown, said Lifesaving Society spokeswoman Barbara Byers.

Just four per cent of Canadian respondents said they couldn't swim.

Immigrants may come from landlocked countries or may have received little water safety training, so they could be unaware of how dangerous water can be, she said.

"They want to do what everybody else is doing, and they just don't realize that you need to have some training and some lessons and some skill to be safe," Byers said.

Ilesh Engineer, who immigrated from India nine years ago, doesn't want any parent to suffer the heartache of losing their child like he did last month.

His 14-year-old son Deep and a friend were playing in an east-end Toronto condo pool when he got into trouble after jumping into water nearly two metres deep.

Despite the efforts of a police officer who dove in to save them, both boys later died. Engineer says his son might still be alive today if he had taken swimming lessons.

"Teach them how to swim," he urged parents, in hopes that they will never face a similar tragedy.

Nearly 500 people drown each year in Canada, according to statistics compiled by the Lifesaving Society, and five people drowned in Ontario last weekend alone.

No organization appears to keep statistics by ethnicity, but several newcomers to Canada have lost their lives on the water in recent years.

Ghulam Badar, a Pakistani immigrant, drowned in Bala, Ont., last year while trying to rescue his nine-year-old niece who was having trouble swimming. She survived.

Vietnamese immigrant Duy Luong Diep drowned when his fishing boat capsized on Rice Lake in Ontario on the Victoria Day weekend in 2006. He and two others could not reach all the lifejackets on board.

The study looked at responses from 1032 Canadians, including 599 newcomers. The results from the immigrant respondents are considered accurate within 3.94 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Monica Gupta, of the India Canada Association says only the wealthy have access to swimming pools in India.

"There are not a lot of facilities, and if there are, they are very expensive. You have to join an expensive club," she said from Ottawa.

She said once immigrants move to Canada, pools and lessons are widely available and more affordable, so many choose to enrol their kids.

"It's not just a hobby. It's about life saving," she said, but acknowledged that not everyone might get around to signing up for lessons.

The Lifesaving Society offers a basic water safety program called Swim to Survive which teaches kids how to overcome disorientation and get to safety after an unexpected fall into water.