One of the most exciting trends happening in our cities’ waterways is the increasing number of people participating in recreational activities. More and more recreational water users are reclaiming “working waters,” urban and commercial zones, as their playgrounds. Kayakers, stand up paddle boarders, canoeists, dragon boaters, surfers, wind and kite surfers, and anglers are out on the water alongside row boats, commercial vessels, powerboats, ferries, sailboats, and oyster diggers. Even swimmers and divers are jumping back into the water in high-use areas.

Joe Berridge, a partner at Urban Strategies, says the explosion of rec water use in our downtowns is due in large part to the move of port lands out of city centres. According to Berridge, “the great port cities of the world are becoming great waterfront cities.”

London, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Boston, Buffalo, Vancouver, Chicago, and New York are just a few places where people use their cities’ waterways for more than just moving shipments and discharging effluent.

But, when it comes to health and safety, there are more than just sewage outfalls, storm water overflows, and other urban effluents to worry about. Lots of different kinds of vessels and activities on the water all at once can be dangerous if you don’t know the rules of the road. Do you know how to be safe on the water in multi-use areas?

How to be safe and enjoy the water in multi-use areas

Swim Guide Program Manager interviewed Angus Armstrong, Harbour Master and Chief of Security for PortsToronto, for tips on keeping safe on the water in multi-use areas.

Listen to the full interview with Angus Armstrong here:

Rules of the water road

Disregard for speed limits, disrespect for other recreational water users, inattentiveness, and making waves are just a few of the behaviours that can make a trip out on the water especially dangerous in areas where multiple water-related activities are taking place. Here is a list of rules to follow when out on the water in multi-use areas.

Wear a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD): There is no doubt about it, lifejackets and PFDs are the difference between life and death. In Canada, recreational water activities account for 62% of all drownings. In 81% of boating deaths, including power boats, canoes, kayaks, sailboats, and rowboats, the person was not wearing a PDF or lifejacket. (In the USA, the figure is 85%). No matter what kind of vessel you are in, if you are heading out in a multi-use area, put on your lifejacket or PFD.

Give way to emergency vehicles and bigger craft: When it comes to right of way on the water, your vessel is either stand-on craft or a give way craft. Do you know what boat you fall into? The bigger the watercraft, the harder it is for it to maneuver. Learn who has the right of way and position yourself accordingly. BOATSmart outlines right of way regulations for all watercraft here.

Photo by Let Ideas Compete

Check the weather and water conditions: Weather changes fast. Being out on the water during a storm, or in unfavourable conditions can lead to an accident. Know what the water and weather in the area is like before you head out.

Know what you are going to do if you are in an emergency situation: What will you do if your canoe flips over in cold water? What if someone on your boat falls overboard? Be prepared. Practice. Take courses.

Be aware of the capabilities of your vessel, and of your own abilities: Don’t press your vessel over its limitations. And don’t put yourself in a situation beyond your abilities. This is particularly important in self-powered watercraft, like kayaks and paddle boards.

Photo by Rawdonfox

Know the rules of the road: Do you know what side of the river you are supposed to be on when you head out in your canoe? What does that blinking buoy signal? At what speed are you supposed to be cruising at in the marina? Know the rules and regulations of the waterbody where you are recreating.

Maintain your vessel and safety equipment: A boat is self contained unit. If it’s not seaworthy, that spells trouble. If your vessel breaks down out in the water, that spells double trouble. Remember that. Always ensure your vessel and equipment is in tip top shape, especially at the start of season.

Take courses: Everyone benefits when you have the knowledge you need to be out on the water. There are great courses on every type of recreational water activity, and most include safety training. Whether you’re in a yacht or wind surfing for the first time, take a course.

Have respect for other boaters and recreational water users: Respect everyone on the water, big and small.

This article series is funded by PortsToronto.

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