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Jun 14, 2024

TIABC Voice of Tourism Newsletter – June 14, 2024

TIABC

When I purchased a boat a few years ago from two retired brothers in Vernon, I headed straight to the launch ramp at West Kelowna’s Gellatly Bay Park to set sail and learn the idiosyncrasies of my new watercraft. Because it was a bit cool and really smoky that day, there were no other boats at the dock or within view on Okanagan Lake.

However, not more than 20 minutes on the water, a zodiac vessel suddenly appeared out of the fog with two members of the RCMP’s West Coast Marine Service on board. They motioned for me to stop and then rafted up. The first thing they asked me is how long I had owned the boat for and chuckled when I said about two hours.

After verifying my boating license, one of the officers proceeded to check for the items all boaters must have to legally operate on the lakes, rivers and saltchuck in BC. She systematically inspected my life jackets, flashlight, fire extinguisher, flares, bailing bucket, and other things to ensure I was prepared to operate safety on the water. Given I just got the boat, I had no idea what I possessed or what was missing, nor was I completely aware of boating laws and regulations. Ignorance aside, I was grateful to float away with only a warning but not before promising to be better equipped the next time I ventured out.

Suffice it to say, the checklist of essentials and rules is long for boat owners and it’s up to us to keep up with legal requirements. For example, the province introduced a new regulation last month that compels owners to remove the drain plug and release all water from internal compartments such as ballasts, bilges, and live wells on dry land before transporting their boats.

Additionally, if you’re transporting a watercraft (e.g. sailboat, motorboat, car topper, kayak, canoe, paddle board) in BC, it’s mandatory to stop and report to all invasive mussel watercraft inspection stations along your travel route. The BC Conservation Officer Service has a team of specialized inspectors checking, and if necessary, decontaminating watercraft being transported within and into BC. I recently saw an inspection station down the road from the Mount Robson visitor centre where officers were patiently waiting for Alberta boaters travelling the Yellowhead to their favourite body of water in our province.

So why should anyone without a personal watercraft care? Very simply…the reason for the new drain plug edict is to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, including zebra and quagga mussels, that pose a serious threat to British Columbia’s aquatic ecosystems, salmon populations, hydro power stations, and other infrastructure facilities. Should these invasive species find their way into a lake or stream, it’s game over for the eco-system. There is no way to reverse the damage. If you’ve ever come across a ‘dead’ lake, it’s disheartening to say the least.

You may know that Parks Canada recently banished personal watercraft from several lakes in eastern BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba until next year to prevent the spread of whirling disease and/or invasive species.

Last month I met with my (western) provincial counterparts to discuss the impact of the aforementioned rules and restrictions although no action has yet been taken to mitigate revenue losses by marinas, boat rental companies, resorts, and other marine tourism operators. To be sure, the most pressing priority is to ensure these lakes are protected from potential predators and preserved for future generations.

Lately, TIABC has been receiving inquiries from out-of-province visitors and industry colleagues who wish to learn more about bans, invasive species, and new boater rules (e.g. drain plugs) to be better prepared for a summer on the water. A workshop or webinar is likely in order in the near future. Stay tuned.

After that first outing on Okanagan Lake, I replaced the old life jackets, fire extinguisher, flares, and other stuff on my boat as per the officer’s suggestion. To be extra cautious, I now go through a checklist before I hook up the boat trailer to ensure I have all the necessities to be safe and legal as per the captain’s responsibilities.

Leaving the drain plug out while towing my boat won’t be a problem. However, I can’t say with 100 percent certainty that I’ll remember to put it back in before backing down the ramp to launch. In fact, I’ve had nightmares about encountering the RCMP’s West Coast Marine Service again, only this time they were rescuing me as my water-filled boat sank to the bottom of the lake.

Walt Judas,

CEO, TIABC

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Pictured left to right:
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- Ceri Chong - Tourism Richmond
- Chris Lewis - Tourism Kelowna
- Nicole Ford - Rocky Mountaineer
- J.J. Belanger - Crystal Cove Beach Resort
- Jamie Cox - St. Andrews by the Lake
- Walt Judas - TIABC
- Mike Retasket - CCCT
- Joanne Burns-Millar - Pacific Destinations