New pandemic pastimes possible factor in uptick of dangerous Toronto water activity

Toronto police marine unit personnel say they are seeing an increase of dangerous activity on the water this summer.

Const. Kevin Lee attributed it, in part, to there being a “compressed” summer under the coronavirus pandemic, leading to more people renting and buying watercraft.

“A lot of new operators — (it) appears to be newer people on the water who don’t have as much experience. There are a lot of renters, a lot more than normal,” said Lee, who added the current rental laws need to be updated.

“So people have to have an actual operator’s card to rent a vessel, which they don’t actually need right now, which is not a good thing to jump into a powerful boat and have never operated one before.”

Read more: 1 dead, 6 injured after boat crashes into rocks at Toronto’s Woodbine Beach

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Anyone who operates a power-driven pleasure craft must carry proof of competency on board. This shows the operator has a basic level of boating safety knowledge. This can include a completed rental-boat safety checklist which is valid for the rental period only or a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC).

Transport Canada said there is no minimum age requirement to obtain a PCOC. However, there are horsepower restrictions. In order to get a PCOC, an online safety course and test are done.

Some veterans of the Toronto harbour said these rules undermine safety on the water.

Captain Ken Ducharme, owner of Heritage Coast Charters, said he has worked in the area for over a decade and describes seeing a drastic change in the harbour in recent years.

“I would consider it, quite frankly, a dangerous place to be,” he said.

On Thursday, a 47-year-old man was killed after the boat he was a passenger on crashed into the rocks at Woodbine Beach.

Ducharme said, unfortunately, the incident doesn’t come as a big surprise. Lately he said he has seen boats overloaded with people hanging off railings in some cases.

“The Toronto harbour is turning into a washing machine. You have a lot of boats travelling excessive speed doing crazy maneuvers,” Ducharme said.

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Witnesses reported the operator of the boat involved in Thursday’s incident appeared to be showing off just before it crashed. Police said investigators are looking into whether the boat was owned or rented, along with other factors including speed and whether the operator was licensed.

Read more: As boating season approaches, OPP are urging safety first

Some commercial operators in the Toronto harbour, like Alexander MacPhee, said they believe personal watercraft operators need more education and tougher standards of safety requirements.

“A lot of the personal watercraft operators don’t have a full understanding of the traffic patterns in Toronto harbour, which can be pretty busy at times,” said MacPhee, who is the owner of T Dot Water Taxi.

“People need to treat driving a boat like they would a vehicle — always be aware of your surroundings.”

It’s that advice Ducharme said he hopes people keep in mind as they head into the last long weekend of summer.

“I would suggest slow down and enjoy, smell the roses, and take your time, and basically (practice) safe boating,” he said.

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