By GLENN GARNETT
Canadians love boating - stats show up to nine million of us enjoy our wealth of waterways each year.
But as nutty and irresponsible as we are on the nationís highways, weíre often wilder on the waves. The Canadian Coast Guard says on average about 200 of us perish in boating accidents every year, with an estimated 6,000 unreported non-fatal incidents.
A lot of these aquatic catastrophes are fuelled by alcohol. Twenty years ago, accompanying an Ontario Provincial Police water safety team, I was surprised to find that over half the pleasure craft inspected by the officers had open beer or spirits on board.
Bill Ariss, boating safety development officer for the Canadian Coast Guard, says boozing boaters remain a problem in spite of tougher legislation.
"People still donít realize that you canít drink on a boat," Ariss says. "The only time you can is if itís equipped with a galley, permanent sleeping accommodations and also a head - and tied up on a dock or at anchor. Transporting liquor is okay on boats without those facilities, but even then it has to be in a closed container and canít be within reach of the operator of the vessel."
If reckless youngsters bombing around your lake on jetskis are driving your nuts, thereís good news. For two years now itís been illegal for operators of personal watercraft to be under the age of 16 - even if a responsible adult is riding shotgun in the back.
"There have been a lot of serious injuries with kids operating personal watercraft (PWCs)," Ariss says. "Thatís the whole idea of banning kids under 16. We even had support from the personal watercraft manufacturers like Bombardier, who always recommended even before there were regulations that these machines are not toys and that kids under 16 shouldnít be on them. And even if you are 16, we recommend that everyone takes training specific to that craft before operating them."
In fact, new boating rules have greatly restricted what teens and preteens can pilot on the water.
"There are new age/horsepower regulations which restrict the size of engines that operators under the age of 16 can run if theyíre on their own in a boat," Ariss explains. "For example, if an individual is under 12 years of age, the most they can operate alone is a boat powered by a ten horsepower engine. For those 12 to 15 inclusive, the limit is a boat with a motor of forty horsepower."
Ariss says the new rules are designed to improve boater competency, and are being rolled out over the remainder of the decade. Soon everyone will need their own Pleasure Craft Operator Card, and while the last thing most of us needs is yet another piece of plastic in our bulging wallets, this oneís vital for the safety conscious.
"Operator competency requirements will pertain to virtually anyone who operates a boat fitted with a motor and used for recreational purposes," Ariss says. "This new requirement is going to be phased in over a ten-year period in three steps. The only people who will need (the card) this summer will be those operators born after April 1, 1983."
The next group will be phased in on Sept. 15, 2002 - at that time virtually anyone operating a boat with a motor that is under four metres in length - this would include all personal watercraft operators - will need a card. By Sept. 15, 2009, all operators of boats for recreational purposes will need it as well.
"We in the Coast Guard want everyone to take a boating safety course," Ariss says. "But more experienced boaters, people who have been out on the water for quite some time, can simply do a written test of basic boating safety requirements to get their operator cards."
The Coast Guard, which doesnít have the manpower to conduct the courses and tests, has accredited private sector training organizations to perform this function. Ariss says thereís over 40 organizations accredited across the country to do it now, and you can get a list of these course providers by visiting the Coast Guardís website at www.ccg-gcc.gc.ca or by calling 1-800-267-6687.
Breaking these new rules, or any water safety regulations, comes with stiffer penalties. Under the new Contraventions Act, enforcement agencies in most provinces (except B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan) can ticket offenders on the spot instead of requiring them to appear in court, for offences such as speeding or having insufficient safety equipment. You could also get slapped for operating your craft in a way that could affect the safety of people or property or for operating in a careless manner.
Thereís new rules for waterskiing as well. In addition to requiring a spotter, seating must be provided on the personal watercraft for each person being towed, towing is prohibited from one hour after sunset to sunrise and a PFD is required on board for each person being towed if they arenít already wearing it - which isnít a bad idea, campers.
Time was a lifejacket, bailing can and maybe a paddle was all you needed to stow on your boat before you hit the lake. Today youíd better make room for the following:
If youíve got PFDs for the whole crew, the Coast Guard says the last three items arenít mandatory.
The Canadian Coast Guard offers these guidelines to ensure personal watercraft will continue to be welcome: