Big, small lakes within reach of OPP

By Carl Clutchey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

Alcohol-related violations and a lack of life-jackets continue to be flash points on the water this summer as provincial marine officers patrol popular lakes in Thunder Bay’s cottage country a short drive from the city.

When it comes to laws governing alcohol and safety, police view “a boat the same as a (road) vehicle,” OPP Const. Jim Thomson said Wednesday.

That means that whether someone is operating a power boat or paddling a canoe, they must be sober; and any passengers onboard cannot be consuming alcohol or drugs, Thomson said.

Including Thomson, there are 10 OPP officers based out of the force’s Thunder Bay detachment experienced in conducting marine patrols.At their disposal is a large SeaSwirl craft capable of cruising on Lake Superior, as well as a smaller vessel that allows officers to access inland lakes popular with cottagers, like Northern Lights Lake and Surprise Lake.

Thomson said the majority of impaired-driving incidents occur on inland lakes, possibly because boaters don’t think police will bother to patrol there.

But they do. At the end of July, a 43-year-old Kakabeka Falls man learned that the hard way.
Police said officers charged him with impaired operation and having a blood-alcohol reading of more than 80 milligrams after a boat had been observed being operated in an unsafe manner on Northern Lights Lake.

The accused was arrested on shore shortly after he parked the boat and allegedly fled the scene. He was additionally charged with failing to ensure there were enough life-jackets for everyone onboard, police said.

So far this summer, Thunder Bay OPP marine officers have laid about 15 charges while on patrol on waterways near the city.

The set fine for not having a life-jacket, or lacking safety equipment, is $200. Driving a power boat without a pleasure-craft card will set you back $250.

Any driving suspensions stemming from a boating-related conviction also apply to driving a road vehicle, Thomson noted.

Another common waterway that OPP officers routinely patrol is the Kaministiquia (Kam) River. The water route is known for its shoreline properties, particularly north of Highway 61.

Thomson, who has personally patrolled the Kam this summer, said compliance for safety regulations has been fairly good so far.

Still, some boaters may not be aware that within 30 metres of shore, travelling speed must be limited to a maximum of 10 km/h to protect swimmers and also reduce shoreline erosion. Marine officers often carry hand-held radar devices.

Police, sometimes with provincial conservation officers in tow, can legally board a boat under the Canada Shipping Act. Once onboard, officers can enforce other laws, including the Criminal Code, and Ontario’s Liquor Licence Act and Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

Boaters are allowed to have open alcohol onboard only if their craft is docked and equipped with kitchens and washroom facilities, Thomson noted.

Thomson said most boaters can avoid receiving tickets by ensuring they operate their vessels safely, and have required equipment onboard, including life-jackets, bailing buckets and a rope strong enough for making a rescue. Boaters must also have ready access to a flashlight that works.