But a colleague of mine who works as a marine safety inspector recently reminded that the warmer weather also signals the start of what he blithely calls "the idiot season". That is, the period when an inordinate number of people take to the water, many of whom put themselves - and others - at risk by their actions.
As he put it, "There is a certain kind of Mad Men mentality that affects boaters. Small craft operators, I mean. It's like, 'We don't need any rules'. But driving a car without wearing your seat belt? No way, not any more. Flying an airplane without knowing the rules, or drinking and driving? Absolutely not. But folks still think they can just climb in a boat, fire up the engine, grab a beer and head off."
His frustration was evident as we spoke. After years working on merchant vessels in the Great Lakes and on the oceans, he's seen his share of accidents, near misses and "stupidity" on the water, with much of his ire focused on recreational boaters, especially small craft users.
I bring this up because a surprising number of people in Canada still don't realize that operators of recreational craft fitted with any type of motor must carry what Transport Canada deems proof of competency while on board. It's the law from coast to coast to coast, whether you're in a PWC, a sailboat with an outboard or a canoe with a trolling motor. Motor + watercraft = need to get a competency card.
Now lest anyone fret that this is another form of government intrusion into our daily lives, it should be noted that there's an easy way to deal with things: Get a Pleasure Craft Operator Card. Essentially it proves you've done a basic boating safety course and know port from starboard, so to speak. There's a manual you can purchase in many nautical outfitters or book stores that you study, then comes a written exam. If you pass, the card is yours, for life. It's not a license that has to be renewed.
To make things easier, Transport Canada has accredited a variety of organizations across the country that offer classroom or online courses. A list of accredited groups can be found on the Transport Canada website (see the Marine Safety sidebar), but I'll point out one good online site that can help anyone through the process.
It's called BoaterExam.com, and allows you to do tutorials at your own pace and write the final exam when you're ready. And the exam is an open book one, so that should make things easier.
Getting a Pleasure Craft Operator Card is a no-brainer, whether you're a teenager or retired. About seven to nine million Canadians take to the water every year, but over 200 die while out boating, and something like 6000 other accidents occur annually. Doesn't have to be that way.
Get the card.
Algoma District, Northern Ontario