Boating in Canada Archive

Boat Operator Licensing in the Media

GAM Sep/98

Michael Vollmer, President of OSA (Ontario Sailing Association) sent these points about "Operator Licensing" to GAM magazine 9/98:

Toronto Globe & Mail Apr/98

Ottawa to launch boating crackdown Jan. 1

[From the Toronto Globe & Mail newspaper, April 2, 1998.]

Officials hope to stem waterway carnage by requiring licenses for all but least powerful motorboats.


British Columbia Bureau

Younger Canadians will be the first wave of boaters to require licenses to operate all but the least powerful motorboats.

A federal government licensing program, which will take effect Jan. 1, will start with those under 16 and in 10 years will expand to include everyone up to 55, sources have told The Globe and Mail. People older than 55 will be exempt.

As well, it will become illegal for anyone under 12 to drive any boat equipped with more than a 10-horsepower motor. Drivers from 12 to 16 years old will be limited to boats with a maximum of 40 horsepower.

The system will have serious implications for the millions of cottage country and recreational boaters across Canada, at first by weeding out young children. Eventually, the system will limit who can rent boats.

It is also likely to prove a headache for provincial governments,which are being asked to take up most of the enforcement responsibilities and will face public demands to police reckless drivers. British Columbia and Quebec are still balking at supporting the program, according to a federal source.

The system is aimed at reducing carnage on the waterways as younger and younger children, as well as inexperienced adults, gain access to high powered motorboats and controversial personal watercraft, one source said.

The Canadian Coast Guard, which has pushed for licensing, records at least 200 deaths and more than 6,000 non-fatal accidents involving small boats each year. Those numbers are believed to be deceptively low, because some accidents go unreported.

Federal Fisheries Minister David Anderson, whose department includes the Coast Guard, is expected to introduce regulations for mandatory licensing within a few days, sources in his department confirmed yesterday.

The test for the license is expected to be "fairly simple, not rocket science," according to officials familiar with the proposal. Right now, "anybody, anywhere, at any age can operate any small vessel at any speed" with no experience or knowledge of what they are doing, said one federal official. "The licensing will help" by demanding basic knowledge of boat handling and minimum safety requirements.

The Coast Guard, which has been negotiating the license plan for months with the recreational boating industry, intends to authorize organizations such as the Canadian Power Squadron, the Red Cross and the Canadian Yachting Association to offer the safety course and conduct tests.

A spokesman with the Power Squadron said the basic course is expected to take eight hours and to cost about $30. The course is not manda tory, but the written test will be, and will cost about $20. Drivers will be is sued a lifetime license, printed on waterproof paper.

Brian Burch, executive director of the Power Squadron, said yesterday that his organization estimates there are at least 150,000 young people between the age of 12 and 16 who will have to take the test immediately if they want to continue driving anything more powerful than 10 horsepower. Although operating a motorboat can be as deadly as driving a car, the recreational boating industry has long fought off provincial and federal proposals for a standardized safety certification system.

However, opposition was reduced by a scaled-down Coast Guard proposal and by bad publicity about reckless drivers, especially of small jet-propelled personal watercraft.

Originally the Coast Guard wanted to require all users of any small recreational boat, including rowboats, canoes and sailboats, to take a safety course, but the government relented lobbying and will include only motorized boats for now.

[You may e-mail any comments to the Ontario Sailing Association at].

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