Federal boating licencing regulations to be toughened up

I know that I have complained on various occasions here about stupid laws and the knee jerk reactions to tragedies that lead to more stupid laws. The problem is, they just keep coming or at least expanding.

In 1999 the Canadian government decided – in their infinite wisdom – to make it compulsory for everyone running a powerboat in Canada to be licensed (notably the Northwest Territories and Nunavut being excluded from the licensing rules). This could be accomplished by paying a fee (of course) and passing a test.The rationale, as it always seems to be, was public safety. In the bureaucratic mind, every boat owner/operator being licensed would somehow reduce boating accidents and the inevitable fatalities.

Like so many other bureaucratic  endeavours they were of course wrong. With their previous failures in licensing (cue the firearms licensing and registration laws) why they would think that taking a test would improve safety on the water is beyond comprehension.  But then it makes it look as though they and their political masters have provided a solution to a perceived problem and no doubts it ensures some more taxpayer funded government jobs.

Now, true to form, there are plans to make obtaining an operating license more difficult because there are still accidents happening on the waterways.

Ottawa will change course on the way it licenses recreational boat operators, toughening up a testing program long criticized as ineffective and easy to cheat.

But the new standards will not take effect until September, after the height of the summer boating season, Transport Canada confirms. And some marine-safety experts suggest that even the proposed changes to the online Pleasure Craft Operator Card testing regime will still leave too many people operating boats without sufficient knowledge, training or oversight.

Calls for tougher rules on the water have grown following a horrific accident on Shuswap Lake in B.C. last weekend in which 53-year-old Ken Brown was killed when a speedboat rammed into his houseboat. Police investigating the accident have said speed, alcohol and the lack of running lights could have been factors in the crash.

James Kusie, of federal Transport Minister John Baird’s office, said the government is altering the licensing program with the goal of improving boating safety from coast to coast.

Unfortunately, all of the licensing in the world will not change the fact that most of the boating fatalities are caused by carelessness and stupidity – much of it alcohol induced. There have been a number of fatalities in BC this summer that would have been avoided had the boaters simply been wearing their life jackets.

The stats are not in from 2010, of course, but in 2009 there were 66 water related fatalities in British Columbia of which 11 were attributed to powerboating,, 1 to a houseboat and 2 to personal watercraft. .

Bathtubs accounted for 2 and hot tubs for another 1 fatalities. Neither of which have, to date, generated calls for bathing or soaking licenses.

I leave the last word to Macleans columnist Andrew Coyne.

In the name of reducing government intrusion in people’s lives, the Conservative government is proposing to abolish the mandatory long-form census (it would become voluntary), a vitally important source of data that only applies to one-fifth of the population, once every five years.

At the very same time, the same Conservative government is proposing to tighten the requirement that every one of Canada’s 7-million or so boaters obtain an operator’s licence and carry it with them every time they get in a boat, on pain of a $250 fine — an utterly needless piece of bureaucratic busywork whose sole defence is that it is ludicrously unenforceable.

Sigh. Could we make up our minds, please? Doctrinaire libertarianism, nanny-state paternalism, whatever. But both at once is just too much to bear.

I’ll take the libertarian approach, thank you.


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