Southern Georgian Bay OPP marine unit promises “zero tolerance” for infractions

The Southern Georgian Bay OPP marine unit (which operates the Tom Coffin out of Wye Heritage Marina) is promising a “zero tolerance” approach to infractions this summer. They are “fed up with those who neglect the rules and will be cracking down on any infractions they see,” according to the Midland Mirror.

When it comes to having alcohol on board and the proper number (and use) of lifejackets (PFDS), the unit’s Kris Beatty told the Mirror: “People still aren’t getting it. The (other day) we pulled a boat over and there were four people on board with open alcohol and no life-jackets.”

The marine unit would like to see boaters wearing their PFDs more often. “The water is still cold. A life-jacket is going to save your life if you fall in the water, because you don’t have any time once you are in.”

The zero-tolerance approach is a change from past seasons, when marine patrols were known to exercise discretion and consider some infractions an opportunity to educate. I knew one officer years ago who would allow a boater who lacked sufficient or proper lifejackets to avoid a ticket by buying them and coming to the station to show him. But consistently high percentages of boating drowning victims not wearing PFDs, and indifference to alcohol regulations, has brought the force to this point.

A couple things to keep in mind:

•While the regs only require you to carry a lifejacket or PFD for every person on board, you’re not required to wear one, unless it is an inflatable model. You are however required to store them in a readily accessible place, and the marine patrol can decide whether some PFDs jammed in a seat locker meet that requirement.

•If you’re in any sort of open boat, wearing a PFD is a good idea. Accidents happen fast, in the most innocuous conditions. Being dumped into cold water is not the time to start looking for the PFD that was stored in a boat that is now upside-down. We always wear our PFDs (a mix of foam and inflatable models) when in the dinghy, and even though our boat is fully enclosed, I wear my foam pfd more often than not, and especially when going out on deck. And I’m a pretty good swimmer who did his Bronze Medallion with Royal Lifesaving as a teen. I’ve been in the water too many times while dinghy racing to know how quickly things go sideways and how important it is to have that positive buoyancy.

•You’re never allowed to drink alcohol while underway, any more than you’re allowed to drink while driving your car. In Ontario, if you blow 0.08 on your boat, you’re driving drunk, just as you would be in a car. Alcohol can only be consumed when a vessel is at dock or at anchor, and the vessel must have permanent sleeping and cooking facilities and a permanent toilet. “Permanent” is critical where cooking facilities are concerned. A portable butane or propane stove doesn’t cut it. We have a Limestone 24 Express Cruiser, and the previous owner on a police courtesy inspection was advised to fix his butane stove to the boat, which he did by bolting it to a drop-down shelf. We seldom drink on board (and only at anchor), but this arrangement (plus the enclosed head and sleeping accommodations) means we meet the requirement.

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