Police across Ontario have been increasing patrols over the long weekend to crack down on impaired boating, part of a years-long campaign to change the culture on the water.
Dubbed Operation Dry Water, the national campaign to prosecute and educate over the August long weekend is organized by the Canadian Safe Boating Council and is in its fifth summer.
Some people don’t think about the dangers of drinking and boating, said director Ian Gilson, which include crashes and falling overboard, but more people seem not to care.
“People view it as an integral part of relaxing and recreating on the water,” he said.
“Secondly, they had no fear of being caught. There are definitely fewer police boats on the water than [vehicles] on land.”
Part of the council’s push to stop irresponsible boating has been the Dry Water campaign, which gets more police boats out on the water during one of the more popular weekends for boating.
Another has been to ask people to report suspected drunk boaters to police, similar to the work Mothers Against Drunk Driving has done for cars.
“If we can engender that same disgust around drinking and operating your car into drinking and operating your boat, we’ll have done a great service to people,” Gilson said.
“We find that people who drink in the water tend to take silly risks that they wouldn’t normally take.”
Illegal to drink on most boats
Cst. Ralph Millaire of the Ottawa police’s marine, dive and trails unit said that around 40 per cent of boating deaths involve alcohol.
“It’s quite dangerous, more so than on the road or other places, because you get dehydrated much more quickly on the water,” he said.
“The wind dehydrates your pores, the sun just beats down on you, you’re having fun so you’re not [thinking] about your alcohol consumption. Once you get dehydrated you can get disoriented.”
Gilson said Ontario and B.C. usually see the most people die while boating every year because of their populations and many lakes.
Numbers given by Canada’s Lifesaving Society said at the end of July, 58 people across Canada had died while boating, with 16 in Ontario.