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Warnings ring out to avoid ‘under the table’ boat hires in Toronto amid extreme heat

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Ontario boat charter safety warnings renewed
WATCH: Ontario boat charter safety warnings renewed – Jun 18, 2024

Charter boat operators in Toronto are renewing warnings to customers to be careful when booking trips on Lake Ontario, cautioning that many boats that are being marketed for cruises on social media are not licensed and are potentially unsafe.

“There needs to be a due diligence to make sure they’re not jeopardizing the safety of their family members or colleagues,” said Mani Saba, owner of Toronto Yachts, a licensed operator.

Last summer, Global News reported on the death of a man who died in the water near the shores of downtown Toronto after falling from an unlicensed party boat.

“This is a very concerning matter that we are taking very seriously.  A lot of these issues are extremely dangerous to the boating community,” Const. Stacy Kellough of the Toronto police marine unit said in a statement to Global News.

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The issue applies to power boats and sailboats.

“Just about every marina will have somebody under the table offering their services,” said Howie Colt, who owns Gone Sailing Adventures.

He told Global News that potential customers often aren’t aware — and don’t investigate — whether a company is licensed as a charter boat operator.

“They’re assuming if you’re advertising, you have a boat available for charter, it’s all registered and legal, which is not the case,” Colt said.

Many unlicensed charters claim to operate as bare boats, a legal arrangement where a boat could be chartered but the owner provides no crew or other provisions; for example, when a qualified captain rents a vessel and operates it according to the existing rules and laws.

But some licensed operators, including Toronto Yachts and Gone Sailing Adventures, contend that almost all of the unlicensed party boat operators are acting as though they are charters, contrary to the law.

The Toronto Port Authority, which operates the Port of Toronto, the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport and the Outer Harbour Marina, strictly forbids bareboating.

“The Outer Harbour Marina, which is owned and operated by PortsToronto, does not allow, enable or approve of bareboating at its facility,” said Jessica Pellerin, senior manager of communications for PortsToronto.

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But unlicensed operators can easily be found advertising cruises on Instagram and other social media sites, often undercutting the hourly rates sought by licensed operators.

“(Licensed operators) pay a high price to participate in the market responsibly and of course there are the rogue actors who exploit the gap in enforcement and go on the market without those requirements and have less overhead and less cost,” said Michael Motala, a Toronto lawyer who has acted for Toronto Yachts.

Megan Woo, a 24-year-old passenger in a 30-foot pleasure craft motorboat, was killed on June 2, 2022. She was onboard with a friend when the vessel crashed and capsized.

The operator of the boat, Filip Grkovski, has been charged with two counts each of criminal negligence causing death and impaired operation causing death. He’s also facing four counts each of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and impaired operation causing bodily harm.

Grkovski is expected to stand trial on the charges in the fall.

Woo’s father, Will Woo, told Global News in 2023 that the operator who was running a charter when his daughter was killed should be punished.

“I’m very angry at the boat owner; the operator of the boat needs to be held accountable, he needs to be brought to justice for his actions.”

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— with files from Prisha Dev

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