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Canadian government to tighten up boating certification in wake of accident

By Sue Richards last modified Jul 15, 2010 05:35 PM

Published: 2010-07-15 17:35:32
Countries: Canada

By IBI Magazine

A fatality resulting from a boating accident last week in British Columbia has prompted Transport Canada to change the exam that certifies boaters. The government agency reacted to outrage from the media and local boating communities after a 53-year-old man was killed when a speedboat demolished his houseboat at a slip on Shuswap Lake.

"Transport Canada believes that raising boating safety knowledge among boaters will result in safer waters," wrote Mélanie Quesnel, media advisor to the government agency, in an email to IBI. "That is why the Competency of Operators of Pleasure Craft Regulations require operators of pleasure craft fitted with a motor to obtain proof of competency."

The National Pleasure Craft Operator Competency Program, which requires all Canadian boaters to be certified, was part of a 10-year phase-in program launched in 1999. The program was designed to make Canada's waters safer. The government said, as of September 2009, it would fine anyone a minimum of C$250 who did not hold a license.

But last week's accident prompted critics to argue that the certification process is not enough. Transport Canada said it will change the current test, which is an online exam with 36 questions, to a more modular approach by September. Now, boaters have to do a boating safety course in blocks, answering questions at the end of each section.

"We think it's a good thing," Robert Dupel, the media liaison of Boater Exam, told IBI. "It's a similar modular format as is done in the US. People have to spend three or four hours in front of the screen doing the course. They can't avoid it if they want to pass the test. It's more hands-on, too, with a lot of animation."

But some local boaters are skeptical of the entire process. Ted Bacigalupo, a member of the Shuswap Regional District board, told the Toronto Globe and Mail that many people on Shuswap Lake do not adhere to safe boating practices. "When you have folks coming from all parts of the country and the world, many of them don't really understand the rules," he said. "You get this real mix of boats and experience levels and everyone is influenced by a vacation mentality. It's not a good mix."

Transport Canada said it is working on an "indicators-approach" to measuring the effectiveness of the new certification program. "This means that Transport Canada will look at objective indicators such as rates of boating fatalities, injuries, hospitalizations, emergency room visits, regulatory compliance, and adoption of relevant safety practices," said Quesnel. "This assessment will help TC determine the specific impact of the program."

(9 July 2010)