When the pandemic put a squeeze on international travel plans in 2020, tourism-based businesses like Kelowna Boat Rentals benefitted from the crowds that headed to the Okanagan Valley for summer vacation.
“Last year was one of the busiest seasons we had. Ever,” Kelowna Boat Rentals manager Silje Riise said.
And while it is unknown if non-essential travel will be allowed in 2021 due to rising COVID-19 case counts and more contagious variants, Riise and boat rental companies across the country say new pleasure craft operator regulations that could be implemented nation-wide in 2022 will devastate their industry.
“They want everyone to have their boating license before they rent a boat,” Riise said.
Transport Canada is looking at drastically changing the current laws that govern pleasure boat operation across the country.
Riise isn’t sure licensing everyone who operates a pleasure craft is the route to take.
“What they’re saying is people should have some knowledge, but I’m not so sure knowledge will come from taking a test online.”
The current law governing boat rental in Canada requires businesses to offer customers a comprehensive tour of the vessel they’re taking out on the water and information about safety.
Dan Albas, Conservative MP for Central Okanagan Similkameen Nicola, is not only questioning what could happen to boat rental companies following the implementation of changes but why Transport Canada is proposing changes.
“This proposal has generated significant concern from local boat rental agencies as it is unclear how a test could be administered in a short period of time as well as the economics of the added costs to the boat rental industry, of which we have many here in the Okanagan,” Albas said.
“I am not a boater, however the comments I have heard from boaters are greatly concerned about these proposed changes.”
A boat rental business owner in PEI believes the proposed changes will do more harm than good.
“The proposed changes will have negative economic repercussions across the tourism industry by directly closing boat rental operators and indirectly affecting other businesses such as restaurants, hotels and events,” Flyboard PEI & Seadoo Tours owner Mike Roberts said.
“We support initiatives intended to improve the safety of our clients and the boating community but there has to be a better way than what is currently on the table,” Roberts said.
Riise said, in her 10 years of experience in the business, boat renters are much more responsible on the water.
“Usually they’re terrified of breaking something because they have a damage deposit down,” she said.
Others who weighed in on the proposed changes on the Transport Canada website expressed concern for current legislation.
“I have seen numerous individuals with an operators’ license who had no clue about the operation of a boat and motor,” Bruce Williams, a B.C. resort owner, said.
A coalition has been formed to represent the interest of Canadian boat renter outlets.
Spokesperson Kelsey Connor said, “We believe that this proposed change will do little to increase safety on Canadian waterways at the expense of decimating our industry, our role (and further potential) as boat safety educators, and the recreational enjoyment of both Canadian residents and international visitors alike.”
Besides proposed changes to rental boat operation, Transport Canada is looking at setting a five-year expiry date for Pleasure Craft Licenses and new licensing fees for those who conduct the online tests.
Transport Canada is expected to comment on the concerns to Global News on Thursday.