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Safety 'all about being prepared'

May 17 2012

Boating can be a year-round pursuit, but May is often considered the start of the boating season on Canadian coastlines and lakes.

With the Victoria Day long weekend approaching and the promise of rising numbers of pleasure craft on the water, boating issues take on added significance, said Cam Taylor of national safety group Boatsmart.

"I think one of the biggest things to consider, particularly at this time of year, is making sure that you have the right knowledge before you head out on the water," Taylor said.

The Nanaimo RCMP will be launching their rigidhulled inflatable vessel Hurricane on Friday to signal the start of their spring and summer marine enforcement. Marine patrols will be especially evident on weekends and during special events.

Taylor said that anyone who takes the helm of a power boat is required by law to write a test and earn a pleasure craft operator card. Getting the card equips you for safe boating, and can even be done online, he said.

"When you're out there on a boat, you can be confident on what side of marker buoys to go on, who has the right of way - all the different aspects of boating safety."

Not having a card can mean a $250 fine, Taylor said. He said the operatorcard program has been phased in across the country over the past decade, and during that time the number of fatalities on the water has dropped.

Taylor also pointed to the importance of the most basic of safety steps, like always wearing a life jacket, refraining from drinking-and-boating, and checking the weather forecast.

"Boating is inherently safe, and most accidents could be prevented by just making simple, commonsense choices," Taylor said.

"If you look at stats, more than 80 per cent of people that drown in boating-related incidents would be alive today if they'd been wearing an approved [personal-flotation device] or life jacket.

"It's all about being prepared ahead of time."

Many boaters learn to be safe through courses run by local divisions of Canadian Power & Sail Squadrons. There are eight CPS squadrons in the group's Vancouver Island South District that give people basic to more advanced skills.

"We are a not-for-profit, Canada-wide organization with 40,000 volunteers," said the Victoria squadron's Brent England. "Lots of people are giving hundreds of hours a year to help put on courses."

The courses begin in January and in September, with spring and summer months set aside for enjoying time on the water.

Courses attract a mix of people, England said, from new boat owners getting ready for the water to kayakers to long-time boaters wanting to learn how to read a chart.

CPS marks Canadian Safe Boating Awareness Week May 26-June 1.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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