By Mike Anderson

York Regional Police and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) York Region have partnered to prevent impaired boating on Lake Simcoe.

They’ve launched a 911 sign campaign which targets marinas and boat launches around the lake and encourages people to report recreational boaters who may be impaired.

Quinn’s Marina in Pefferlaw was the first in Georgina to sign up for the campaign and will put up the 911 signs near its docks on the Pefferlaw River.

According to Transport Canada’s website, more than 40 per cent of boating deaths are caused by alcohol consumption.


“The message from MADD is that if you see someone or know someone is impaired and they’re behind the wheel of a boat, call 9-1-1. So, we don’t have to deal with the aftermath of a potential collision and fatality,” said Kathy Mitchell, past president of MADD York Region.

According to Mitchell, police have been able to catch many impaired drivers on our roads because people call 911. She would like to see the same apply to boating.

“If you see a boater being more aggressive, making sharper turns, fluctuating their speed, not putting on their lighting when they should be, or just general loudness on a boat and people partying it up, call 9-1-1.”

“People should not drink and boat. I don’t think most boaters realize that impaired driving includes impaired boating. The criminal charges are the same.”

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, penalties for operating a boat under the influence can result in fines and jail time. A 1st offence carries a $1000 fine. A 2nd offence can land you in jail for up to 30 days. If convicted of boating under the influence (0.08% BAC), your boating and driving license could also be suspended.

While passengers can consume a small amount of alcohol on a boat, there are strict conditions. The boat must have a designated cooking and sleeping area, a standalone washroom (a portable mobile toilet doesn’t count), and be moored to a dock or at anchor.

However, the operator and passengers are prohibited from consuming alcohol while the boat is in motion.

“When people consume alcohol and operate a vessel, they are endangering not only their own lives but the lives of everyone around them,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Busby, head of YRP’s Marine Unit in Jackson’s Point.

“A power-driven craft can make up a distance much quicker than someone in a canoe or kayak. It can hit a swimmer, another boater or someone on a standup paddle board. And the bigger the vessel, the more damage it can do.”

Const. Todd Snooks, from the YRP Road Safety Bureau, adds that collisions on water carry additional risks.

“It is no different than getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. Only I would say from the standpoint of survival, in a collision on water, you’re surrounded by water. There’s also no seatbelt. So your ejection rate is going to be up there. Drowning is a real possibility.”

Trent Quinn (L) joins YRP and MADD Canada at the campaign launch at Quinn’s Marina on May 18.

Busby is careful to state that the 911 campaign is not targeting any group specifically, like fishermen, but rather the offence itself.

“Whether you are driving a 40-foot cabin cruiser or a 17-foot bass boat, it doesn’t matter to us. The laws are the same on water as they are on land. You cannot operate a vessel while drinking. You can’t have open alcohol in a vessel at any point unless that vessel meets specific criteria and it is either docked or anchored.”

So what should people look for before calling 9-1-1? Busby, like Mitchell, says the signs are similar to impaired driving on the road.

“There are no lines for boaters to cross; however, if they operate dangerously, that’s a sign. But, most of all, if people see people consuming alcohol from the land and they see a boater go underway. That is a sign that this person’s consuming alcohol, and now they’re operating a boat. They may not be over the legal limit, but we still want them to call us. So we can go and intercept that individual and do a sobriety test to ensure they are in compliance.”

While it’s hard to describe a boat from land, Busby says his officers are adept at identifying vessels that may be called in.

“Our officers know the lake. We’re looking for a general description of the boat, the colour, the colour of the top, and the last direction of travel and where they departed from. Our officers can get to where this person is likely going. There are only certain ways that you can go through the network.”

“There is also a registration number on the front of the boat. And if the vessel is over a certain class, it will have the name on the back. And that’s great too.”

Trent Quinn, 22, says his family fully supports the 911 campaign and is happy to be the first marina in Georgina to put up the signs.

“Drinking and boating is terrible,” Quinn said.

“It inhibits decision-making. And it brings out the worst in many people, especially on SeaDos. You get people crisscrossing out there, and it causes a lot of problems. “

“Every marina should support this. The signs should be on every launch ramp. We need to get across the message, ‘Water on the water, beer on the pier.'”



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