Haw’aa for all the fish caught this week. A lot of boats are moving around these days. The runabouts are trailering down the highway. The docks in Masset, Port, Sandspit, and Charlotte are busy with people putting their boats in for the season or getting ready to go out.
Naturally, being on an archipelago means a certain amount of boating. Whether you’re aboard a ferry, water taxi, troller or longliner, chartered speedboat, sailboat, yacht, canoe, or kayak, it is necessary to give the ocean a ton of respect. Fool is the man who thinks he is invincible on the sea.
Our Haida Gwaii ocean is volatile and cold. There are shipwrecks up and down this coast. People have found a thousand ways to create a boating mishap. Some are caused by lack of preparation, such as getting caught in fog without a compass or chart, or running out of fuel. Others are caused by taking unnecessary risks like going to sea with a temperamental engine or motoring around in the dark without proper lighting and navigation gear. And many are caused by gross negligence such as paying undue attention, ignoring the rules of navigation, not carrying appropriate safety equipment, and boating while intoxicated.
Whether touring around in a kayak or heading out in a speedboat for a day of salmon fishing, there are a few basic things that you need to do.
- Make a plan and let someone know where you plan to go and for how long.
- Check the weather before setting out. Learn how to access and interpret Coast Guard marine reports by phone or marine radio.
- Check the sea conditions online using the Environment Canada site or Windy TV.
- Get familiar with the area you are going to by checking charts for hazards and potentially dangerous currents.
- Check the tides.
- Bring proper safety equipment. This is a legal responsibility and a list of required gear is available from Transport Canada. It varies depending on the size and type of vessel, but some key things to remember are: life jackets for everyone on board, flares, a light, a first aid kit, bailer or pump, and a sound-signalling device.
- Bring a marine radio. I cannot overstate this enough. So many tragedies could have been avoided if boaters had been able to call for help. Besides communicating with the Coast Guard or other boats, they can also be used to hear marine weather updates. Have a radio with you and know how to use it. They can cost between $100 and $200 — well worth it if it saves your boat or your life.
- Carry spare fuel or a spare paddle.
- Have the nautical chart for the area you are navigating.
- Ensure the vessel is seaworthy.
Anyone operating a powerboat must get a pleasure-boat operators card, at a minimum. The card is available online by passing a very basic test of marine rules and regulations and is valid for life. I recommend boaters also take the SVOP (Small Vessel Operator Proficiency) course. It is much more in depth, and required for many jobs in the marine industry. For paddlers, courses are available that teach the basics of paddling, rescue, and self-rescue.
Even though we are by design, terrestrial beings, the sea beckons. It is well worth heeding the call of the sea, but only after respecting the rules of navigation, the ever-changing weather, and the awesome power of the ocean.