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Preventing boating emergencies before they happen

Preventing boating emergencies before they happen

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Three of the volunteers from the Sunshine Coast Power and Sail Squadron that help educate boaters. From the left, Frank Palmer, Jack Adams and Jim Forward. Donna McMahon photo

Most recreational boaters are aware that if they get into trouble in Sunshine Coast waters there are agencies to rescue them, such as the Coast Guard, Marine Search and Rescue and the RCMP boat. But fewer boaters realize that there’s a group whose goal is to prevent emergencies before they happen.

The Sunshine Coast Power and Sail Squadron—a volunteer run organization—provides education to everyone from seasoned mariners to people who just moved here and are thinking about buying a boat. In Canada, recreational boaters are required to pass a boater safety course and get a Canada Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC). However, this teaches only the basics of safety and marine navigation.

“The course will get you out on the water, but it won’t get you back home. It’s not enough,” says squadron Commander, Jack Adams.

“It’s not like driving a car,” adds squadron member Frank Palmer, noting that boaters must know how to deal with tides, weather and navigation hazards. And although these are inland waters, they can be rough. “People don’t realize how bad it can get occasionally,” said Palmer.

Almost all boaters these days use GPS, but if it is not set up and used correctly, GPS can be inaccurate. It can also fail. Jim Forward, Education Officer for the squadron, says that on his boat he has a GPS system at the helm, his wife uses an iPad, and on the table between them they have a paper chart.

“Every sane boater should have paper charts and know how to use them,” says Forward.

This month the squadron is holding four courses: Boating 1 (the basic PCOC course), two navigation courses, and a Marine Radio Operator’s Certificate. For a full list of courses, times, dates and fees, email, call 778-734-0737 or look the squadron up on Facebook.

Forward would particularly like to see more participation from “trailer boaters”—people who have smaller boats that they mostly use in the summer, and who may be less networked into the marinas and the boating scene.

All boaters can also benefit from the squadron’s free recreational vessel courtesy checks. Volunteers will examine the boat and, if all proper safety equipment is present, they issue a sticker. They also offer suggestions and advice.

A new program, which has been piloted for the last few years, is flare return days. Flares are required on all vessels and expire after four years, but there has been nowhere to safely dispose of them. The new program has collected thousands of expired flares which are returned to the manufacturer for disposal.

The squadron has one other priority: fellowship. They hold social events such as monthly pub nights where members can make friends and pick up important boating tips from experienced boaters.

The Canadian Power and Sail squadrons is a national association with over 30 branches in BC. There are three squadrons on the Sunshine Coast: Powell River, Pender Harbour, and the Sunshine Coast squadron, which is affiliated with the Gibsons Yacht Club.

Membership in the Sunshine Coast squadron is $52 per year. Benefits include discounts on courses, marine equipment, and marine services. The squadron has been active here since 1966 and has about 200 members.

Donna McMahon

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