OPP, Parks Canada issue safety warnings as demand for new boats outstrips supply

The pandemic has prompted families to find new ways to get outdoors, like boating, but Parks Canada and OPP are warning people about water safety.

Boat sales in Ottawa through the roof this year, says shop owner

A boat docked by the Rideau Canal. OPP and Parks Canada are warning people to stay safe on the waters, noting a high number of new boat permits issued during the pandemic. (Uday Rana)

As people have been buying up boats in an attempt to get outside more during the pandemic, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Parks Canada have issued safety warnings to watch out for inexperienced boaters on the waterways this summer.

Last year, 32 boaters and paddlers lost their lives on waterways controlled by the OPP. 

"With many more people planning to take up boating this summer, the OPP is urging all new, inexperienced boaters to develop safe marine habits at the very outset," the service said in a news release issued last week. 

The number of new boat permits issued has risen, prompting OPP and Parks Canada to issue safety warnings.

Jamie Montreuil, co-owner of Mike's Marine Sales in Ottawa, said boat sales have been spiked during the pandemic.

"I placed an order for new boats in October 2020, but I don't know when I'll get them. I have people calling me every day but the supply is just not matching demand," Montreuil said. 

Montreuil said many buyers are first-time boat-owners.

"Most people are experienced boaters but some are inexperienced and don't quite understand what they're getting into. So the concern around accidents is not unwarranted."

A summer with no screens

With summer break around the corner, parents are looking for ways to spend more time with their children outdoors.

Andrew Aziz, who bought his first boat this year, remembers his grandfather teaching him how to sail when he was young. With his kids cooped up during the pandemic, he figured it was time to buy a small sailboat of his own. 

"It's exciting and it's adventurous. There is a certain freedom when you're sailing. There are no phones to bother you, no screens to distract you," he said. 

Steven Brombach, an Ottawa dad, bought a boat this year to spend more time with his kids outdoors. (Uday Rana)

Steven Brombach also bought a boat this year.

"I want [my kids] to spend time away from the screen. My oldest is 18 and he will leave the nest soon. I want to spend quality time with them and boating is a good way to do that," he said.

Brombach has seen his fair share of accidents and near misses, but says the boating community is very supportive.

"If you need help with launching or anything else to do with boats, just go to the sailing clubs and ask someone. People are more than happy to help new boaters. They want the community to grow," he said.

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