Phil Thompson didn’t recognize the RCMP boat as it approached his vessel, just north of the W.R. Bennett bridge, Thursday morning.
Reserve constables Phillip Boissonneault and AJ MacKinnon waved the boater down, told him to shut off his engine, then explained they were going to go through a standard safety check.
Boissonneault asked to see various pieces of safety equipment including lifejackets, flares and a flashlight, as well as identification and a boating licence. MacKinnon, the operator of the RCMP boat, focused on the paperwork.
Thompson, as well as the two other vessel operators Boissonneault and MacKinnon interacted with on Thursday morning, didn’t seem to mind being checked. In all three cases, the boats were properly equipped.
“We’re not here to make life miserable for people; our focus is water safety and saving lives,” said Boissonneault.
“We issue a lot of warnings. We try to treat our enforcement program as an education program.”
Boissonneault admitted he will issue fines for some offences.
“Generally, if you don’t have the correct number of lifejackets on board, we’ll issue a ticket for that.”
The retired RCMP officers travel up and down the valley, doing patrols on a part-time basis.
Although the majority of their time is spent conducting safety inspections on boats, they also focus their attention on more serious issues such as speeding and impaired boating.
“The worst thing we’ve seen is boats speeding under the bridge, not slowing down at all. The concern there is, either one side or the other has calm water, and there’s always somebody either wakeboarding or skiing in the vicinity of the bridge.
“If a boat is travelling under the bridge at a very high speed, should the person who is wakeboarding or skiing along the length of the bridge cut in front of them, they don’t have time to take evasive action.”
Boissonneault said even if alcohol is being consumed on a boat, in most cases, the operator is sober.
“A person is allowed to have alcohol on board a boat; a boat is considered a private place.
“We do check to make sure there’s not an excessive amount of alcohol for the number of (people) on board. We also check to make sure everybody on board has proper identification.”
The reserve constable noted several boats tied together creates a “public space.” Therefore, alcohol is not permitted in that circumstance.
The water patrolling duo has dealt with known criminals and Hells Angels over the past few summers, but Boissonneault said they haven’t had any issues to date.
“When they’re out on the water, they’re just out to have a good time. We’re there to make sure they do it safely.”
An RCMP boat check could happen to anybody, but according to Boissonneault, there are steps boat drivers can take to make the process go as smoothly as possible.
“Make sure you have all your safety equipment on board and everything is in good working order. Have your required operator training and proof of training on board.
“And operate in a common sense and safe manner—then you won’t come to our attention, necessarily.”
Boissonneault and MacKinnon agree it’s rare to come across a confrontational boater.
“We see great cooperation on the water from the public,” said Boissonneault.
“Everybody realizes the work we’re doing is for their safety.”