New coalition revved up about wake boats on public waterways

Wake boat image

Not your grandfather’s lake boat: powerful, modern “wake boats” kick up waves and protest


All across Canada, many small communities face great difficulties in trying to establish regulations regarding the protection of navigable waters environments – that is, waters which fall under federal regulatory jurisdiction, The Canada Shipping Act in particular.

Not only are these communities paralyzed in their efforts to address the growing numbers of motorized boats on waterways, but they also find themselves helpless to deal with the proliferation of “Hummer” type boats, or wake boats, with their 330 horsepower (HP) to 550 HP engines. The powerful,  destructive waves that they generate can cause shoreline erosion, damage docks,  make non-motorized boating unpleasant and disturb shoreline enjoyment.

Laws don’t work

Unfortunately, The Canada Shipping Act is an inefficient tool to address the aforementioned challenges, because the Act, which dates back to the early years of Canada, was not conceived to protect the environment.  More precisely, the prime purpose of the Act is to protect the rights of navigators and minimize barriers to navigation.

But the worst part about this Act is that it makes it exceptionally difficult for a local government to obtain federal approval for a new regulatory proposal – up to 5 years from the time a request is submitted to the moment when a proposal may be approved – and the guidelines on the Act make it abundantly clear that the federal government seeks non-regulatory solutions by way of voluntary codes of conduct.

The latter point is the source of eternal conflict within communities, as they must achieve nearly 100% voluntary adherence to a proposed code of conduct.  Surveys and referendums are not regarded by Transport Canada as a basis for a community to formulate a new regulatory proposal.

Consequently, most communities are not able to follow through to achieve federal regulatory approval.

It is against this legislative backdrop that the matter of the proliferation of wake boats on Canadian waterways has contributed to community dialogues of the deaf over non-resolvable conflicts.

New breed of boat

Wake boats are not at all like conventional motor boats. The combination of 1) horsepower ranges similar to those offered for Volvo tractor-trailer trucks and 2) ballasts ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 lbs, produce high, powerful waves, even at modest speeds.

As if this is not enough, the turbidity caused by wake boats churns up sediments below the boats and fuel consumption is in the stratosphere. With respect to the latter point, so much for tackling climate change!

For other water bodies, the depth and size of the waterway may mean little environmental tolerance for any type of powerful boat.  In BC, on the Shuswap River, the environmental challenges pertain to jet boats navigating up sensitive spawning habitats.  These jet boats can travel upstream at high speeds in very shallow water.

To address the increasing environmental challenges posed by problematic boats, the Coalition on Responsible and Sustainable Navigation was officially created on September 1st in a small Quebec community, St-Faustin-Lac-Carré, Québec.

Coalition calls for legislative changes

In effect, the Coalition wishes to see modifications of two pieces of legislation, the Fisheries Act and the Canada Shipping Act.

With regard to The Fisheries Act, while the Act was designed to be a tool to protect marine life habitats, it cannot be readily used to regulate motorized boats.

Accordingly, The Coalition’s objectives entail the modification of federal legislative framework in order to make it possible to define parameters for motorized boating activities — based on science rather than non-resolvable debates — regarding the impacts on the marine environment and community decisions.

Clear national/provincial environmental criteria would be the pillars of the new legislative framework and the concept of voluntary codes of conduct would be abolished. The time line for bringing the communities from across Canada for a common purpose to submit innovative legislative proposals is 2015.

As for the rationale for the inter-regional and inter-provincial approach, it is a reflection of the fact that a small community, acting on its own, cannot hope to have sufficient influence to request major legislative modifications. By contrast, a pan-Canadian Coalition, too big too ignore, with a holistic non-partisan approach to encompass all waterway characteristics and conditions, offers a more effective path to create a dialogue with the Government of Canada.