When I first started cottaging in the late 1980’s I was immediately impressed by the companionship amongst boaters, even ones I had never met. There was a kinship, like we were all part of one big happy family. Two boats never passed without their captains and passengers offering a friendly wave and a smile to each other. I was proud to be part of the boating community.
Sadly, that is changing. Gone is that feeling of belonging to an elite club. Fewer and fewer boaters acknowledge each other anymore, and those, like me, who hold tight to the old ways, are left feeling bereft and isolated.
Even worse, however, is the lack of courtesy and protective instinct toward other boaters that used to be a given; I always felt safe on the water knowing that if my boat died and I got stranded, I could always count on someone to help me. While the majority of boaters still practice this etiquette, I am aware of too many incidents in recent years that I find disturbing.
A number of years ago, I was boating near dusk on the long weekend in May. In the distance I could see an odd-shaped outline of something stationary on the water. As I approached, I soon realized it was an overturned boat with two people desperately hanging on to its hull. Between my passenger and me, we were able to pull the boaters in to my boat, and flip their tin boat over in order to pull it to shore. The young men were suffering from the early stages of hypothermia. Once they were able to share their story, I was appalled to learn that several boaters had passed them without any attempt to investigate or help.
Another story, told by a family from Tobin Island, involved coming to the aid of a couple who’s outboard motor on their large fishing boat conked out leaving them to attempt to reach the nearest shore under power of their paddles alone. Needless to say, the off-shore wind made progress slow. They were relieved when Bob Spence and his wife approached their vessel and offered to help. Given the lateness of the day, it was decided that the best course of action would be to tow them to the closest marina. Unfortunately, their vehicle and boat trailer were parked somewhere else. So Bob’s son towed their boat to the marina and tied it to their dock; then proceeded to his own vehicle parked at a landing about a mile away. He drove the young couple to their car and trailer, and then lead them back to the marine and helped load their boat to take home for repair in Toronto. This is obviously a positive story and it should come as no surprise that these cottagers pulled all the stops to assist this fisherman and his wife. And the adventure would be a good news story, if, the Spence family had been the first boater passing the couple frantically waving their arms and calling out for assistance. It turns out; the couple had been padding for over two hours and watched helplessly as innumerable boats passed without offering even a second glance.
The most disturbing story; however, was related to me by Deb Croft. She and a friend were paddle-boarding when suddenly it became very windy and it was almost impossible to paddle. Deb left her friend hanging on to a buoy and paddled for home to get a Sea Doo to rescue her. Unfortunately, she was gone awhile. In the meantime, her friend waved at three different boats whose captains and passengers failed to even acknowledge her. Finally, a Good Samaritan from a nearby island Victoria took his tin boat out to the buoy to rescue her. All ended well, but it is disappointing that those few boaters passed her by.
However, faith in my fellow boaters is not lost. This past weekend my boat stalled half way between my island cottage and the mainland marina where I park my car. Observant neighbours, seeing me floating in the bay, immediately came to my rescue; one offering me gas and the other a tow back to my dock. A local mechanic responded to my call for repair within two hours. Turns out, I needed a new water filter.
We have all heard the pleas for safe boating practices ‒ watch your wake, be on the lookout for non-powered vessels and swimmers, abide by the rules of the road and stay well away from shorelines and structures. For the most part, boaters are listening and showing respect. But let’s not forget the camaraderie. Look around you when you are boating. Take a closer look when you see a stationary vessel. It never hurts to ask if everything is okay. And if you’re the one in trouble, make sure you signal passing boaters with a two arm, over-the-head wave and use your horn or whistle.