Rideau Canal boating season numbers among lowest in years

The number of recreational boats that have used the Rideau Canal for the 2013 season is among the lowest in years, and some boaters are blaming the government's decision to reduce locks hours.

Some boaters blame reduced locks hours; Parks Canada says numbers were dropping before hours dropped

Rideau Canal boaters say shorter locks hours are to blame for a low boating season turnout. 2:31

The number of recreational boats that have used the Rideau Canal for the 2013 season is among the lowest in years, and some boaters are blaming the government's decision to reduce locks hours.

Parks Canada, which manages the historic waterway, last spring shortened the hours boaters can access the locks. 

Benjamin Gales, a lockmaster in Ottawa, says a number of factors can cause boater numbers to fluctuate, including weather and fuel prices. (CBC)

There are 50 locks stations along the 200-kilometre waterway and they used to be open 12 hours per day during the season, which runs from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving.

This year it was cut down to eight hours per day. 

Benjamin Gales has been a lockmaster for 16 years. This is the first season he's worked 9 to 5.

"We haven't compiled the numbers for September and October yet, but they are a bit down from last year where we had 57,000 boats," Gales said, adding that bad weather and fuel costs can affect the number of boaters.

So far this year, the numbers sit at more than 51,000.

Gales said that while the numbers are down, the season "went fairly well" and "was still extremely busy." He said he didn't get any complaints about the reduced hours.

Boater says his vacation was affected by hours reduction

But boater Al Morris told CBC News his vacation was affected by the reduction in hours.

"Based on the changes of hours for the locks this year, it made it difficult to plan a vacation to take advantage of the Rideau Lakes and to navigate along the waterways in a normal place," Morris said.

Al Morris, a boater, says his vacation along the Rideau Canal was affected by the reduction in locks hours. (CBC)

"You felt you had to be rushed to get from point A to point B, and then they would close at an early hour so it would make it difficult to get where you wanted to go."

Morris said he couldn't get to Perth, Ont., because of the new hours.

"So we ended up docking in the middle of the canal and had to pay to dock there, and then obviously the following morning, again the hours weren't conducive, so we just continued on our trip," he said.

"Maybe whatever the government decided to do ... maybe needs to be revisited."

Parks Canada said boater traffic was dropping even before the changes. In 2010, there were more than 66,400 boaters. By 2012, that had dropped to more than 57,300.

The department said it plans to meet with towns and businesses over the winter to discuss this season.

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