May 15, 2019 7:19 pm
Updated: May 15, 2019 8:12 pm

Hamilton police emphasizing boat safety ahead of Victoria Day long weekend

WATCH: The Hamilton Police Service Marine Unit is out on the water conducting routine safety checks ahead of the May long weekend, which marks the unofficial start of the boating season.

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The May long weekend marks the unofficial start of the boating season, and the Hamilton Police Marine Unit is reminding boaters to keep safety in mind as they head out on the water.

Const. Ben Rushton said the marine unit is already out in Hamilton Harbour and Lake Ontario conducting routine safety checks. He said most offenses on the water start at fines of about $240.

“We already have issued some fines this season, as well as some warnings, and we will do the same thing throughout the season,” said Rushton. “The majority of stops we do on the water, we do usually find something — at least one thing, sometimes more that are missing or not in good working order.”

Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

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He added that the elevated water levels pose a risk this weekend.

“Right now the Lake Ontario water levels are about two feet higher than normal for this time of year. That can impact boating in that hazards can be submerged, so whether that’s shorelines, rocks, buoys, and docks, things that were previously visible are now under the water,” Rushton said.

“So people need to be aware of that and reduce their speeds and exercise caution.”

READ MORE: Trent-Severn Waterway navigation season delayed until May 24: Parks Canada

Ian Gilson, director of the Canadian Safe Boating Council, said his organization wants to ensure people remain safe while having fun on the water ahead of Safe Boating Awareness Week, which begins immediately during the Victoria Day long weekend.

The council is delivering five specific messages to boaters: wear a lifejacket, boat sober, take a boating course, be prepared — both in terms of equipment and awareness of weather and water conditions — and be wary of cold water temperatures.

“Cold water is the great equalizer,” said Gilson. “If you’re going to go out at this time of year — and that’s absolutely fine — wear some thermal protection just to keep you safe should you end up in the water.”

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Gilson also said that while it’s important to make sure you have all of the necessary equipment on board your boat, it’s also crucial to make sure you’re prepared for changing weather and water conditions.

“[Make sure] you’ve checked the weather, and you’re making sure that your experience level — especially if you’re in a small human-powered boat like a canoe or a kayak — is going to be up to the challenges of that particular waterway,” Gilson said.

READ MORE: Navigation restrictions lifted for Muskoka

This is also the first boating season in Canada since the legalization of recreational cannabis. Gilson said 40 per cent of boating fatalities happen to people who are impaired, which is why the council is urging people to be fully sober while out on the water.

“Cannabis is treated the same on the water as alcohol,” said Const. Rushton. “So in order to consume alcohol or cannabis on your boat, it has to be docked or anchored and it has to have permanent cooking, sleeping and washroom facilities.”

He added that while a boat is moving, nobody on board can consume alcohol or cannabis, including passengers.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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