Police across Ontario patrol for drunk boaters over long weekend

Police across Ontario have been increasing patrols over the long weekend to crack down on impaired boating, part of a years-long campaign to change the culture on the water.

'Operation Dry Water' aims to ticket or arrest impaired boaters, make sure rules are well-known

Ottawa police are patrolling the Ottawa and Rideau rivers over the August long weekend, along with the Rideau Canal, as part of a national campaign to crack down on impaired boating. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Police across Ontario have been increasing patrols over the long weekend to crack down on impaired boating, part of a years-long campaign to change the culture on the water.

Dubbed Operation Dry Water, the national campaign to prosecute and educate over the August long weekend is organized by the Canadian Safe Boating Council and is in its fifth summer.

Some people don't think about the dangers of drinking and boating, said director Ian Gilson, which include crashes and falling overboard, but more people seem not to care.

"People view it as an integral part of relaxing and recreating on the water," he said.

"Secondly, they had no fear of being caught. There are definitely fewer police boats on the water than [vehicles] on land."

Police will be checking to see if alcohol is being stored or consumed improperly by boaters this long weekend, along with making sure boaters know the rules and risks of impaired boating. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Part of the council's push to stop irresponsible boating has been the Dry Water campaign, which gets more police boats out on the water during one of the more popular weekends for boating.

Another has been to ask people to report suspected drunk boaters to police, similar to the work Mothers Against Drunk Driving has done for cars.

"If we can engender that same disgust around drinking and operating your car into drinking and operating your boat, we'll have done a great service to people," Gilson said.

"We find that people who drink in the water tend to take silly risks that they wouldn't normally take."

Illegal to drink on most boats

Cst. Ralph Millaire of the Ottawa police's marine, dive and trails unit said that around 40 per cent of boating deaths involve alcohol.

"It's quite dangerous, more so than on the road or other places, because you get dehydrated much more quickly on the water," he said.

"The wind dehydrates your pores, the sun just beats down on you, you're having fun so you're not [thinking] about your alcohol consumption. Once you get dehydrated you can get disoriented."

Gilson said Ontario and B.C. usually see the most people die while boating every year because of their populations and many lakes.

Numbers given by Canada's Lifesaving Society said at the end of July, 58 people across Canada had died while boating, with 16 in Ontario.

Cst. Ralph MIllaire of the Ottawa police's marine, dive and trails unit says Ottawa police gave out 16 tickets for breaking Ontario's drinking and boating laws over the 2016 long weekend. Nobody was charged criminally. (CBC)

Ottawa police are making sure people know Ontario's rules and penalties around alcohol and boating, Millaire said.

In order to drink "you need a big boat, basically. You need a fresh water supply, a pump out toilet — not just a porta-potty. You need to be anchored and moored overnight," he said.

"You're allowed to transport alcohol, as long as it's not readily accessible to the driver."

Anyone caught breaking these rules faces a fine or criminal charge, which could mean a suspension of their driver's license.

On Monday morning Ottawa police said they'd only issued one alcohol-related ticket this weekend, along with 24 other tickets for infractions found during the blitz, but a relatively cold, windy and rainy weekend meant low boat traffic. Last year they issued 16 tickets during the same long weekend.

Toronto police didn't have numbers available for this weekend, but said they generally don't issue a lot of impaired boating tickets on Lake Ontario and it's been a low-traffic year for them because of high water levels that kept visitors off Toronto Islands until the end of July.

The Ontario Provincial Police and York Regional Police did not respond to a request for their numbers.