KELOWNA - If hopping onto a boat or paddleboard is how you spend summer in the Okanagan, you'll want to make sure you're following regulations to avoid hefty fines.
Missing just one lifejacket could land you a $230 federal violation ticket with another $115 for each additional missing vest. Not having your pleasure craft operator card or vessel license is a $287.50 ticket. And unlike road patrols, marine officers don't need a reason to interrupt your excursion.
Reserve Constables Phil Boissoneault and A.J. Mackinnon team up to patrol Lake Okanagan 40 hours a week as part of the RCMP Marine Enforcement.
And they want the public to know violation fines are expensive.
"We've written warnings right up to the $2,000 range," says Mackinnon.
Today they were out on the lake stopping boaters and paddlers for inspections, issuing warnings as a head's up on the requirements.
"As we approach a ship we're looking at numbers, the vessel numbers on the front, and we're also keeping an eye on whose driving the boat because if there's six or eight people on board and they see the police vessel come up, all of a sudden they're switching positions," he says.
While some were well-prepared for water safety, most had to scramble around through their boats to find the equipment and others readily admitting they had no clue where certain items were.
Mackinnon was writing up notices while Boissoneault went through the checklist for required equipment: lifejackets in good condition, a spare floating rescue rope, water-tight flashlight, whistle or sound horns, fire extinguisher, and a supply of flares depending on the size of the boat. Most of this equipment can be purchased at Canadian Tire, boating shops or even dollar stores, Boissoneault says.
Stand-up paddleboarders and kayakers have to play by the rules too. Which means either wearing a lifejacket or having it anchored to your equipment along with a whistle and flashlight.
So far this year they've only issued tickets for missing safety equipment - often boaters have too few or no lifejackets. But having a blood alcohol level over .08 or an excessive amount of liquor on board can send you back to the shore, possibly with a criminal charge.
For the most part Mackinnon says boaters are well-behaved.
"We haven't made a seizure yet this year," he says. But if you are just two on a boat with three cases of beer, you'll be sent back to shore to lighten your load.
Drinking on the water can lead to boating-related accidents and drownings, Mackinnon says.
"Alcohol affects the ability to swim... it cuts down your lung capacity."
Another common violation is personal watercraft operated by just one person towing a number of tubers. MacKinnon says they've already issued a number of tickets this year where there was no one to spot the tubers.
"You gotta have a spotter," Mckinnon says.
And though there's no speed limits on the lake, Mckinnon and Boissoneault keep any eye on boaters passing under the Bennett bridge where there is a posted limit of eight kilometers per hour.
Patrols kick-off on the May long weekend as the lake gets busier. Enforcement teams cover right up the north end of Okanagan lake, Wood Lake down to Osoyoos and as far as Princeton.
Patrols operate out of Westbank on the weekends from 12 to 6 p.m. The marine enforcement program started three years ago and is run by RCMP reserve constables who may also conduct road patrols and can take violation tickets to court.
All boaters must have their pleasure craft operators card, picture ID and a vessel license at all times.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at email@example.com or call (250)718-0428.