The city brought in licencing fees to cover the approximately $250,000 in annual maintenance cost of the docks at Cook Road, Water Street, and Sutherland Bay. (Photo/Gary Barnes)

The city brought in licencing fees to cover the approximately $250,000 in annual maintenance cost of the docks at Cook Road, Water Street, and Sutherland Bay. (Photo/Gary Barnes)

Okanagan commercial vessel operators capsized by city fees, rogue recreational boaters

Commerical boat operators take issue with private crafts offering tours for payment

Some Okanagan Lake tour boat operators are churning the water over Kelowna’s municipal dock licencing program.

The city set out fees for its three boat launches in March. Depending on the type of business, operators pay either $1,000 or $2,000 per watercraft annually. Fines for non-compliance can be up to $500.

Private boat owners are not required to pay the fees. However, several commercial operators are claiming it’s unfair, stating many private boats are offering tours for payment.

“I see them advertised on Facebook all the time, and I have no clue what their licencing is or anything like that, at $100 an hour,” said Lindsay Partington, co-owner of Sip and Anchor Luxury Wine Tours and Boat Charters.

“There are numerous people using the docks every day picking up, so why is it just small businesses they’re (the city) charging?”

Capital News spoke with other operators who asked not to be identified. One claimed they talked with a private boat owner who said following the rules was a hassle.

“He told me straight to my face it’s too much work with the city, too much insurance for clients, to hell with it,” said the operator. “Yet he’s there every day with two boats and Seadoo. “So how is that fair?”

READ MORE: Kelowna sets municipal boat launch fees for commercial operators

Partington stopped using city docks because she doesn’t want to pay the fee, plus her moorage, fuel, and employment costs have also increased.

“For us to pay a $2,000 increase in moorage and then pay a $2,000 fee for maybe eight pick-ups a year is not going to work. It doesn’t make financial sense.”

Not long after making that decision, Partington received what she said was a “not worded very nicely” email from the city.

“It was ‘you are going to be fined if you are caught from this point forward.’ For what, a two-second pick up at the dock?”

The anonymous tour operator said they are willing to get a dock licence.

“I’m all for it as long as it’s fair across the board.”

Another concern Partington and the other operators have, is people paying to get on a private boat that may not be properly insured, licenced, or certified. The safety of tour boat operations is regulated by the Canada Shipping Act and overseen by Transport Canada. Partington says people are likely unaware that they could be going out on a vessel that may not be adequately licenced or insured.

“What if something happens? You’re out on a boat with that person and they’re not licenced properly. Do they have the right insurance? Who knows, maybe they do.”

The anonymous tour operator Capital News spoke with echoed those concerns.

“The public may not know what they are getting themselves into. Tour operators are following the rules, we’re paying a lot of money and we’re doing things by the book with proper coverage, proper insurance.”

The operator also had a few choice words for those flouting the rules.

“Shame on you for taking liability with the general public, because they have no idea.”

Partington said the big issue for her is that Kelowna is a city that prides itself on supporting tourism.

“We have so many great small businesses and this is an obstacle. Our city should be supporting small business and tourism, and this is the opposite of that.”

A staff report going to city council Monday states commercial use of municipal docks has dropped about 30 per cent since the fees came in. Ten companies have completed their licensing and another ten are being finalized. Twelve operators have indicated that they have made other arrangements and will not be using city docks because of the new program. At least eight companies have not indicated if they will apply for a licence. Bylaw officers have been conducting random checks at city boat launches and four tickets have been issued so far.

“The city’s commercial boat launch program has proven highly successful, alleviating commercial demand for limited launching capacity at the Cook Road and Water Street boat launches while at the same time raising $140,000 in non-taxation revenue,” the report states.

The city brought in licencing fees to cover the approximately $250,000 in annual maintenance cost of the docks at Cook Road, Water Street, and Sutherland Bay. It’s anticipated an additional $1.15 million will be needed over the next ten years for repairs and improvements.

Capital News has repeatedly contacted the City of Kelowna, and Transport Canada for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

READ MORE: Lake Country on board with commercial boat launch fees


@GaryBarnes109
gary.barnes@kelownacapnews.com

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BoatingBylawsCity CouncilCity of KelownaKelownalakesOkanaganTourism

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