Respect on the water

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Some folks on Lake Kash reached out recently, concerned about wakes from commercial watercraft, particularly those involving wakeboarding and wakesurfing.

They said it was great the County had passed a shoreline preservation bylaw, however the focus was on land-based activities and had nothing to do with environmental impacts stemming from the water.

In short, they said the boats are driving fast, blaring music, and sending “tsunami” like wakes ashore. They claim it’s eroding the shoreline, stirring up goose poop sediment, and damaging fish and other waterfowl and their habitats. They say boulders are being washed up, sand and soil eroded, and trees leaning into the lake as their root systems are being swept away.

There is also wear and tear on docks. They also say they have to time their lake enjoyment around commercial hours. 

I went on a little jurisdictional fishing expedition. Dysart et al? Nope, not their responsibility. The County? Sorry, not theirs, either. Various provincial ministries? Can’t help you there. Transport Canada? Pay dirt. And while they regulate boat speeds within 30 metres of shorelines, they do not regulate wakes. Dead end.

With no apparent hard and fast rules in place, it all comes down to respect.

In chatting with Craig Bowker, who owns Ski-Mazing Watersports School, he said he gets about one complaint every two years. However, he said his operation does very little wakeboarding or wake surfing. They mostly just teach kids to waterski and wakeboard. He said he follows the rules the industry has put in place and has been able to live amicably enough with people on the lake the past 20 years or so.

Haliburton Hockey Haven started a new wakeboarding program this year but we’ve been unable to connect with owner Troy Binnie to get his take on what’s been happening.

Living in a County of more than 600 lakes means we all have to get along.

I personally like non-motorized watercraft. I prefer a kayak and canoe. However, I respect that some of my neighbours like to take a tinnie out fishing, while others prefer pontoon boats. Others still like boats with a bit more grunt, or water skiing, wakeboarding or wake surfing. For others, a jet ski is their choice of ride.

For the most part, I find other boaters are respectful when they see my little blue kayak bobbing in the water. They generally slow down, or at least give me time to steer my ride so I face the wake and have a better chance of not being capsized. I can be a bit judgmental when I see wakes affecting the loons, geese and ducks around me. 

As Bowker says, no one has a right to monopolize a shared water space. There is nothing stopping a lake association, for example, from reaching out to its commercial and non-commercial operators to try to establish sound ground rules so everybody gets a chance to enjoy our waterways.

Tips and suggestions aren’t hard to find. The Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associaton (FOCA) has been raising awareness about the issue for a couple of years. Along with the Muskoka Lakes Association, and Safe Quiet Likes, they collaborated on a short video about being #WakeAware.

With more and more people coming to the County and building on lakes, rivers and streams, we have to ensure mutual respect going forward. And it isn’t just for humans. We need to protect our aqualife and wildlife, and overall  environment.