Swamped boats prompt call for better speed enforcement on Rideau Canal

Some recreational paddlers who use the Rideau Canal are calling for better patrols of the waterway after close calls with larger, faster moving vessels that literally left them in their wake.

Kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards are especially vulnerable, with water splashing up the sides of the canal’s concrete walls crashing crashing into the small vessels. 

It’s happened at least three times in the last week alone, according to witnesses. 

On Sunday, David Giannandrea was biking towards Dow’s Lake along the water when he saw a boat speeding toward downtown. 

“I noticed the water was very rough. Moments later, I came across two kayakers in the water. They were floating in their life jackets,” he said. “Their tandem kayak was mostly full of water, but still floating. They said the wake from the larger boat flooded their kayak and they flipped.”

‘I came across two kayakers in the water … They said the wake from the larger boat flooded their kayak and they flipped.’
– David Giannandrea

He along with other passersby yanked the wet passengers and their kayak from the water.

Though it’s impossible to operate a boat without disturbing the water’s surface, Giannandrea said he thinks the larger boats often go much faster than the 20 km/h speed limit set by Transport Canada. 

High water levels exacerbating problem

Parks Canada is one of the organizations responsible for the care of the Rideau Canal. In statement emailed to CBC News, they said they have received several complaints this season about speeders and large wakes on the canal.

They’ve taken to social media to remind boaters to watch their speed and the size of their wake. 

But the weather this summer has exacerbated the situation. 

“This season has been one of unprecedented amounts of precipitation resulting in unusually high water levels across the entire system,” read the Parks Canada statement. 

On top of record rain fall, all lockstations are free as part of Canada 150 celebrations, attracting masses of boaters to the famous UNESCO world heritage site. 

Despite the complaints to Parks Canada, it’s police who are in charge of enforcing the speed limit.

The Ottawa police marine, dive and trails unit patrols all waterways in the area from May to September. At least two of their five boats are out every day, but not every stretch of water gets patrolled daily, they said. 

So far in 2017, no speeding complaints about the Rideau Canal have reached Sgt. Marty Dompierre, but he has a warning for boaters. 

“If your wake reaches the shore, that’s too much for us,” he said. 

He’s urging people to complain if they see violations, because he said that’s the only way charges can be handed out. 

“Without notification we can’t act.”

Ottawa Police Impaired Boating Blitz

Ottawa police are responsible for ticketing speeding boaters along the Rideau Canal, but paddlers say they rarely see them. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Experience helps keep paddlers dry

Not all boaters hit with large waves get dumped in the drink. 

Lesley Nix was in a tandem kayak on the Ottawa River with her partner when waves came their way. Because they are experienced paddlers, she said they were able to avoid getting swamped.

But for less seasoned paddlers, those conditions can mean danger.

“As for wakes from the larger boats, I don’t think there’s any malice, they simply don’t realize how much of an impact the wake they create has on small craft,” Nix said. 

“If you don’t know what you’re doing it’s very easy to get swamped. Don’t get in a boat until you’ve done a little bit of research and you know better how to deal with the things you run into,” she said, adding that more police presence is needed to enforce the posted speed limit. 

“The enforcement is not there.”

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