As many of you on Bob Lake know, I am an active promoter of safe boating. I do so because I believe that we should all have the right to the peaceful enjoyment of our waterfront and to be able to swim, paddle and boat safely everywhere on this beautiful lake. But another reason for my “passion” about safe boating is the tragedy which struck a friend and former work colleague of mine, Issie Goldman. In the narrative “Tamara” which follows, Issie describes how his daughter, Tamara, was killed in a totally preventable and senseless collision while on a PWC.
Despite his overwhelming grief, Issie marshalled his strength and determination to try to ensure that such a tragedy would never happen again. He joined a committee of the Canadian Coast Guard charged with the task of bringing forward recommendations for improving the safety of pleasure craft operation in this country. Although some of the recommendations of this committee were not distilled into law, we now have regulations that require boaters to pass a course to obtain a boating license. We also have age and horsepower restrictions for operating motorized boats, including PWCs. Early problems with off-throttle steering and braking of PWCs have been addressed to some extent by manufacturers since Tamara’s death, but all PWCs still require skill and diligence on the part of the operator for safe operation.
I encourage everyone who operates a boat in your family to read about Issie’s journey. Pass it on to your friends and neighbours. Let’s be part of the solution to prevent another tragedy like this. Let’s all be aware that operating a boat close to shore, near docks and in narrows requires diligence. The law is clear that no one should exceed 10 km per hour within 30m of shore or docks. The courteous procedure is to slow down to a no-wake speed or even idle speed. I like to think of the law as the minimum standard of acceptable human behaviour. Surely, we can all do better than that.
John du Manoir
On July 15, 1994, my 14-year-old daughter, Tamara, was killed in a PWC accident on 6 Mile Lake in Muskoka. She was staying at a friend’s cottage, for a week. On a Thursday afternoon, her friend’s father rented a Bombardier Sea Doo for them. Tamara drove the Sea Doo through a narrow ‘S’-shaped channel. She was driving too fast and when she realized she was going to hit the shoreline, she, instinctively, released the throttle. At this instant, she lost the ability to steer the vessel. This was the first time Tamara had ever been on the PWC and the last day of her life. One day, a proficient dancer, a graduate of Claude Watson School for the Arts, suddenly gone. It has been proven that the first 20 hours of operating a PWC are the most dangerous times for operators of all ages. This totally preventable tragedy was no exception.
The coroner’s inquest into Tamara’s death was held in Bracebridge. The inquest recommended that the Federal Government immediately implement regulations requiring proof of operator proficiency by licence, or otherwise, prior to operating personal watercraft. The recommended regulations included a minimum age of 16 years for operators, plus successful completion of a course of study for personal watercraft operation equivalent to the course offered at Watercraft Training Centre, which includes theoretical and practical on the water training. Some of the recommendations had been proposed by previous coroner’s inquests but had not yet been implemented.
Approximately two years later, I was able (emotionally) to join the Canadian Coast Guard committee on Boating Safety with the intent to improve boating safety in Canada. There were many intelligent and well-meaning members on that committee, representing groups from all across Canada. The self-interest groups represented anglers, hunters, fishing lodge owners, indigenous groups, cottage-owners associations as well as groups involved in boater education -a broad range of people with very different needs and interests. The committee tried to establish guidelines including a minimum age for all watercraft operators, a licence for all operators, a test to evaluate the boating knowledge and demonstrable driving capabilities of all applicants for boating operator’s licence. In other words, to install similar requirements for driving a boat to those required for driving a car or motorcycle.
The committee agreed that the leading causes of PWC accidents continue to be attributed to Inattention, Inexperience, and Inappropriate Speed. 90% of accidents were caused by operator error. This includes:
- Reckless or careless driving
- Becoming airborne within 100 feet of another vessel
- Weaving through congested traffic
- Operating at greater than no-wake speed within 100 feet of a shoreline or pier
- Operating contrary to the ‘rules of the road’
- Driver inattention
- Excessive speed
- Driver inexperience
- Lack of off-throttle steering (resulting in the loss of steering control when the throttle is released)
As a committee, we decided on many recommendations including on-the-water training.
In the end, due to objections from a group involved in boater education at that time, the Coast Guard opted to accept watered-down guidelines that did not include on-the-water training. Thus, we have now the current requirement of a simple written test of boating knowledge to obtain a boating license for the operation of a motorized pleasure watercraft. The adopted regulations also include age restrictions for PWC operation and for watercraft with larger engines.