An effort to curtail excessive boat engine noise on Okanagan Lake has been initiated with the support of the national Decibel Coalition advocacy movement. (File photo)

Muffling excessive boat noise on Okanagan Lake

National Decibel Coalition advocacy group seeks Kelowna support

A grassroots movement has started in Kelowna to seek more efficient and effective Okanagan Lake boat noise enforcement measures.

Aligned with the national Decibel Coalition, initiative supporter Chris Lapointe calls the current Transport Canada boating noise regulations in place, tied to mechanical boat exhaust stipulations, unenforceable for police.

Lapointe, a member of the Okanagan Mission Residents Association board and a boat owner himself, said the issue of boat noise has percolated off and on in Kelowna over the past 20 years.

He says it began to capture public attention in the early 2000s and was revived again in 2008 and 2013 with nothing resolved.

“With the growing popularity of boating and especially this summer where all the hotels are already booked solid and a lot of people will be coming to town to vacation, it is only a matter of time until this issue comes up again,” he said.

Lapointe said his interest right now is to meet with local environment groups, resident and neighbourhood associations and strata councils to discuss the issue and build a groundswell of support before approaching city council to support the Decibel Coalition initiative.

READ MORE: Boat noise stirs up Sicamous council

READ MORE: Kelowna city councillor takes on boat noise

Alan Drinkwater, an active supporter of the Decibel Coalition effort, has joined forces with Lapointe to promote greater local public awareness and support for more stringent boat noise enforcement measures.

Drinkwater said there are four disruptive issues that consistently arise regarding ocean and lake use in Canada: boat noise, wave wakes, high speeds and loud music.

“Of those, the coalition has chosen to have a laser focus on the boat noise aspect,” he said.

As Lower Mainland resident who owns a recreational property in the Shuswap, Drinkwater said the coalition has begun to build momentum since being founded in Ontario in the fall of 2019.

“Our strategy is to go after property owners, neighbourhood associations, recreational groups and environmental groups to join and support the coalition, and then take the issue to municipal and regional district governments to build support,” Drinkwater said.

“Ontario is ahead of us at this point as they have been going at this for a while and have seven local governments in the region who have signed up in support of the coalition at this point,” he said.

Drinkwater said 22 U.S. states have adopted decibel noise laws which have been found to work well, both as an enforcement tool and standing up in court.

“Wisconsin, which has the second-highest level of registered boat pleasure crafts in the U.S. next to Florida, has adopted two aspects of decibel limit laws – one is a shoreline test and the other is a stationary test out on the water,” Drinkwater said.

The laws are enforced using a decibel measuring meter, a science technology measuring tool that would be a similar data collector for police to how a breathalyzer measures the impairment level of motor vehicle drivers.

Drinkwater said Transport Canada hosts annual forums to welcome public input on potential regulation changes, and boat noise was on the agenda for the most recent forum held in April.

“It is on their radar screen because they have heard an earful at these forums from individuals across the country who are fed up with having to endure excessive boat noise,” Drinkwater said.

“But Transport Canada has also made it clear to us they only respond to lobbying. You have to lobby hard to bring about change and the boating industry right now is not on board with us, instead favouring a tweaking of the existing boat exhaust regulations.”

He acknowledges any change is still going to take two to three years to achieve and will require widespread grassroots support across the country, including the RCMP, as the federal government sets boating regulations on open waters.

Lapointe said it is a small fraction of boaters who introduce noise disruption that impacts other boaters and lakeside residents, but it’s to the level where some waterfront homeowners he knows have moved to escape the boat noise annoyance.

He said the boating industry has made huge technological strides to minimize boat engine noise, saying it is a small niche of the boat manufacturing community that chooses to bypass those engine noise muffling advances.

For more information about the Decibel Coalition and supportive efforts ongoing in Kelowna, you can contact Chris Lapointe via email at chris.lapointe@northsands.ca for more information. The Decibel Coalation website is safequiet.ca.

Okanagan

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