RCMP boat promotes safety on Okanagan lakes

Officers say they're only interested in keeping the water safe

Bearing down on the speeding boat, RCMP Reserve Const. Phil Boissonneault raises his arm, signalling the driver to throttle back and shut off the engine.

As the two vessels come alongside each other, the officer explains his intentions of conducting a routine, marine check.

In this instance everything is in order, the owner has all his paperwork, including operators licence and registration, as well as the required safety equipment, life jackets, fire extinguisher and safety tow line.

Once the check is completed, Boissonneault signals his partner, Reserve Const. AJ MacKinnon, who’s operating the police boat and they head off across Skaha Lake in search of other vessels.

“We’re not here to make life miserable for people; our focus is water safety,” said Boissonneault.

“We issue a lot of warnings. We try to treat our enforcement program as an education program.”

The two retired Mounties spend their time travelling throughout the region and their service augments the marine coverage of the individual detachments, many of which have their own boats.

The checks are not just restricted to vessels with engines as one Calgary kayaker drifting in the middle of the lake found out.

By the time his marine check was completed he wound up with a long list of items to look after before he took to the water again.

According to Boissonneault, while most people are surprised at being stopped, unlike on a road where police need cause, boats are fair game any time, operators are usually very co-operative.

“Most of them are really good about it,” said the officer.

“I think they understand that we’re here basically to save lives and keep them safe.”

While it is legal to have alcohol on a boat, police make sure there is not an excessive amount for the number of people on board.

Penticton Staff Sgt. Dave Fayle noted in this area, police generally have fewer problems with those who use the lakes for recreation.

“We haven’t seen it to be a reckless boating problem that I’m aware of,” he said.

“We have the occasional thing but really compared to other places where there are a lot of visitors using the boats, here it’s mostly local people who are very respectful of the law.

“Most of our time on the water is usually spent with compliance-type things, making sure everybody has the right equipment etcetera.”

The Penticton RCMP marine program doesn’t usually kick into high gear until the August long weekend however, this year due to priority of land-based duties, the only time the vessel has been used was for the Aug. 7 Snowbirds show over Okanagan Lake.

Officers on board were not actually checking other watercraft but enforcing a no-boating zone below the area where the aircraft were flying.

“It’s (manpower resources) an ongoing problem during the summer months which is our busy time of year,” said Fayle.

“We can’t take people from the front lines to run the boat so we try to do it on some kind of enhanced resources either on an overtime or reschedule basis.”

He added the boat is always available for emergency situations and can be on either lake in a matter of minutes.

Someone else who feels the staffing pinch this time of year is Sgt. Kevin Schur who heads the Osoyoos detachment.

“This is a marine community,” he said.

“Should we be out there (on the water) more?

“Yes, we should but we just don’t have the resources, I wish we did. I would like to have it out there everyday.”

In addition to the patrols, the detachment’s boat is also used for search and rescue and has already been called into service for that duty at least twice this year.

“Having the boat is critical, a 24/7 thing for us,” said Schur.

“We have lots of drunk drivers in boats and we need to deal with that, we have the border here that the lake crosses, and if somebody is in trouble in the water, if it’s not us, there’s nobody else.”