It was a classic case of the chickens coming home to roost.

For years, those of us lucky enough to enjoy a water-based community in the Georgian Bay have been clucking away about the recklessness of pleasure cruiser drivers... people who go out and spend thousands of dollars on powerful pleasure boats and don’t spend one minute learning the “rules of the road” as it were. Anyone unfortunate enough to be paddling a canoe near one of these weekend “fish bikers” (a favourite community phrase) soon learns that they don’t understand who has right of way and what politeness entails.

So when the government announced a phasing in of operators licences for boaters, we all gave a cheer. This is a good beginning to educating those people with the thick wallets that match their thick heads!

Well, this morning, my family (husband, son, daughter) and I grabbed our notebooks, launched our 14-foot aluminum runabout with its 8.8 hp motor and headed to our community dock for a two-hour lesson and a one-hour operator’s examination which would gain us our licences to operate our canoes, rowboat, runabout, and the 18 foot boat that gets us up to and down from the cottage, but rarely leaves the dock beyond that.

If you could see my face right now, you might mistake it for sunburn. Actually, it’s embarrassment.

It’s amazing how you can drive a boat in a vehicle-free community and need to know so much about “the rules of the road.”

For instance, if you repair the zipper of your daughter’s PFD (personal flotation device), is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, it renders the life jacket illegal, that’s what it does. And what’s the best way to test a PFD... jump off the dock with it on; jump in the water and try to put the lifejacket on from the water; wade in up to your neck with the jacket in place and see how you do? None of these is the right answer.

And how about the length of line needed for your anchor rope on your six metre boat? How long can you have a flare on board without replacing it? Where’s the windward side of a boat and what’s the philosophy about which side of the boat you’re responsible for keeping your sightlines on? If a whistle is okay as a warning device, what kind of whistle is legal? How about one of the pea-less whistles... are they okay?

And how about paddles? Do you need a paddle on a windsurfer? (Yes, you do, with one exception...)

And on and on. How about small scale and large scale charts? Which do you need where and how out of date can they be before they must be replaced? Can you be in a rowboat without port & starboard running lights?

All of this is shared with humility (the humiliation was earlier today) as we came quickly to realize that it’s not just the weekend pleasure boaters who’ve slipped a gear or two in the knowledge department. It was an intense two hours, 60 of us hunched over small boating booklets as we picked out the finer markings of warning and mooring buoys. And then we all paid our $25 and lined up to receive our exam papers, scurrying off to corners of docks and wallspace to fill in the blanks, write our essay questions, and move into the new league of “licenced operators”.

It’s a good thing the government is finally doing something about all those airhead operators out there. It sure is!

Thanks, government.

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