Over the summer I’ve come across a number of posts that basically read like this one from John Savage on Facebook:

The Ottawa River downtown is dying from the police’s unwillingness to crack down on speed boaters who endanger paddlers and rowers on a daily basis. Here is the typical response to my raising a paddle to ask this fellow to lower his speed. Later this same day, my friend Vanessa and Sean were assaulted by a personal watercraft that came at them straight on then sprayed them in a sharp turn. The police were called, but never showed. As Indigenous paddlers, this is particularly frustrating that we cannot safely paddle the Kichi Sibi within sight of a 7300 archaeological site of our ancestors anymore. It’s clear Transport Canada, the police, and all levels of government are unwilling to properly manage this waterway. Cultural genocide has many forms.

John Savage on Facebook

Now this one from Mr. Savage has a little twist on the usual complaint of a-hole boaters in that he alludes to historic grievances, but the basic compaint – of motorboats and jetskis essentially assaulting paddlers – has become a familiar refrain as of late.

In my role as senior camping and boat consultant over at Trailhead (senior on in age, I should clarify), I have heard a few more stories of the same ilk, one from a man easily in his 70’s who told me how his wife urging a motorboat to slow down led to the boat doing a u-turn, blowing by them on a tight corner and actually swamping causing their boat to capsize. A couple in their 70s!

“We thought about calling the police”, he said, “but the guys would be long gone .. if they even came”.

Now, I don’t have any intimate knowledge or understanding of the “rules” or “proper authorities” involved here, but it seems crazy to me that some yahoo can basically assault two seniors out for a paddle, with witnesses all across a beach and other boaters in plain sight, without consequence.

These encounters are eerily similar to the kind of bipolar vitriol I sometimes see between the cycling and car communities, if there is a ‘car community’ as such. I know that most boaters, like most drivers, would never act aggressively towards a canoe or kayak, let alone against an old married couple. But throw a hundred horsepower in their hands and there’s a percentage of boaters – like drivers – who act like morons. These folks will ruin it for everyone, as always.

I could also go on for a bit about how damaging it is for large waves to crash against the shoreline, but for now I’m focusing on the human cost.

Unfortunately I have no specific remedy to offer, just raising awareness for the moment. Other power boaters should obviously do their part to keep their brethren in line – eventually someone is going to get seriously hurt or killed; a crackdown is coming if this continues, and that probably won’t come out in the motorboaters’ favour.

And I suppose other paddlers and non-motored river users should be more willing to offer support, perhaps even testimony or pictures and videos from smartphones when the situation warrants it.

I’ve heard and read stories of motor- vs human-powered boat conflict on all the local rivers and many lakes, and it’s certainly not a new phenomenon. But clearly not enough discussion or attention is being paid to this issue, especially around public beaches and other spots that are likely to attract amateur and casual paddlers.

I mean… a couple in their 70s!

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