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Old 05-21-2008, 08:43 AM   #1
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The Montreal Gazette - Reports - 20 May 2008



While ballooning gas costs are expected to put a damper on some outdoor activities this summer, hundreds of thousands of Canadians will take to the water in boats of every sort - from fishing to cruising to sports craft - for another season of fun.

But the fun comes as a licensing net that will eventually cover all power pleasure craft operators begins to tighten around a $26-billion-a-year industry.

A three-stage boating certification program started in 1999 will wind up next year, compelling everyone operating a non-commercial power boat to carry a Pleasure Craft Operator Card.

Industry watchers say the new safety regulations are unlikely to have much of an impact on recreational boating, which now accounts for 10 per cent of Canada's tourist dollars, or cut into the nearly $16 billion Canadians spend annually on boats, motors and accessories.

There are a few exceptions to the sweeping federal regulations. If you have already taken a boat safety course before the start of the program in 1999, if you are a non-resident and are operating a boat in Canadian waters for fewer than 45 consecutive days, or if you are renting a motorized vessel, you are off the hook - sort of.

Previous safety-course participants have to prove it and boat renters without an operator card will have to complete a rental boat-safety checklist administered by the person renting the vessel. The Northwest Territories and Nunavut are not covered by the law.

For everyone else, Sept. 15, 2009, is the competency deadline, regardless of age or size of boat operated. That means if you were 25 or under as of April 1 and plan to get behind the wheel, or tiller, of a power boat of four metres or less, you'll need an operator card, the Canadian Coast Guard says.

The rules include canoes with electric trolling motors or small gasoline engines, sailboats with auxiliary engines, personal watercraft and boats powered solely by electric motors. If it floats and has a motor on it, you'll need a card to legally operate it by late next year.

Safety skills, including proper use of life jackets, are key to the boater competency course, which covers a range of basics including the minimum safety equipment requirements for your boat (such as charts, floating ropes, a baler, whistle and first-aid equipment); understanding channel markers and the Canadian buoy system (never tie up to a navigational one); sharing the waterways with other users (taking/giving right of way); understanding your responsibilities afloat (what your wake does to another boat, for example); rescuing those in distress and responding to other emergency situations.

The operator card, which is good for life, can be obtained by taking a Transport Canada accredited operator card course, either in a classroom setting, by correspondence or online.

Boat safety organizations offering certification include BoatSmart Canada (www.boatsmartcanada.ca), The Operator Card (www.theoperatorcard.ca) and Skipper Online Services (www.boaterexam.com). The online courses range in price from $29 to $49 and require a non-relative to witness the test. Transport Canada's Office of Safety website offers a complete list of accredited test agencies: www.tc.gc.ca
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