'Selfish and stupid': Spike in boaters, jet skiers in danger zone above Niagara Falls

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is sounding alarm bells following a spike in incidents in which watercraft have drifted close to its Niagara Falls hydro operation — including one in which a pair of jet skiers were "dangerously close" to the brink of the falls.

'It's just not worth the risk,' said Tony Bennett, OPG director of dam and public safety

Ontario Power Generation shared this photo saying it showed a "close call" in June where jet skiers were "dangerously close to the brink of Niagara Falls." (Supplied by Ontario Power Generation)

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is sounding the alarm following a spike in incidents where watercraft have drifted close to its Niagara Falls hydro operation — including one in which a pair of jet skiers were dangerously close to the brink of the falls.

A photo shared by the Crown corporation shows two people aboard jet skis, silhouetted against the rushing water. A short distance away the waves and rapids abruptly disappear, thundering over the edge of the falls.

"Entering the areas above the falls is dangerous not only for the boaters but also for emergency services who have to respond to get them out," explained Niagara police Sgt. Jon Pilkington in a media release from OPG.

"There has definitely been an increase in known incidents on the Niagara River," he added. "It's a very hazardous position to be in, especially when you get into trouble in this area of the river."

In its release, OPG described boaters and jet skiers who ignore the big, red warning signs and keep-out buoys near their operations as "reckless, dangerous, selfish, and stupid."

OPG said it put out the release following a spate of incidents in which recreational watercraft entered the restricted waters near the International Niagara Control Works (INCW) — an 18-gate dam about a kilometre from the drop of the falls.

The sudden increase this summer comes after OPG and New York Power Authority installed a new radar system to detect vessels that may be in danger and sound an alarm to steer them away from potential tragedy.

And there have been close calls.

A man fell into the frigid water of the Niagara River after riding his jet ski through a control gate above Horseshoe Falls and had to be fished out by police last September, according to the release.

He was sent to hospital with minor injuries while his jet ski went over the falls, it added.

Another person was also spotted riding a jet ski in restricted waters that same day, said OPG. Both people faced charges under the Canada Shipping Act and Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations.

"When you cross that line into prohibited waters, you are putting yourself at risk and you could be fined or charged and lose your watercraft," said Tony Bennett, OPG's director of dam and public safety. "It's just not worth the risk."

Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati has also weighed in, describing the jet skiers as "absolutely reckless," and asking residents to boat responsibly.

"Please do not put yourself as well as our first responders in any unnecessary danger," he posted on Twitter. "Entering the area of the Niagara River downstream from the Welland River is against the law and can result in federal fines."

Now OPG and Niagara police say they're stepping up enforcement efforts following the uptick in incidents.

"Boaters who fail to stay clear of marked exclusion zones are exposing themselves to a real risk due to the high turbulence and strong currents," warned Mike Martelli, OPG's president of renewable generation, in the release.

Boats and jet skis are barred by federal law from entering the Niagara River downstream from the Welland River, said OPG, noting criminal charges are possible for those who flout the rules.

They could also face a more deadly consequence, according to the release: "Boaters venturing into waters below the INCW put themselves at great risk of being pushed toward the falls as control gates can open at any time, releasing a sudden surge of water."