Nunavut bolsters marine safety measures

“We want people out on the water who are in a safe environment”


Transport Canada, the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tourism are beefing up their efforts to increase marine safety across the territory that has suffered disasters, including the sinking of the Avataq, a converted lobster boat that sank four years ago near Arviat with four men and a heavy load of cargo on board.

This summer, for the first time, three Transport Canada inspectors will be travelling throughout Nunavut, talking to local hunting and trapping organizations, inspecting boats and talking to operators.

They’ll focus on smaller vessels, such as outfitters’ boats and boats carrying soapstone.

“Our statistics indicate that’s the type of vessel that is having more incidents,” said Peter Timotin, Transport Canada’s regional director in Winnipeg.

Transport Canada inspectors make sure boats are sound and seaworthy and that lifesaving and fire equipment are on board. They also examine the competence of boat operators.

“We ask a few pointed questions to make sure the person knows how to operate a boat properly,” Timotin said.

Inspectors can issue detention orders for boats or can prevent a person from operating a boat if this could prove dangerous to human life or environment.

But this summer, they’ll be taking a more educational approach.

“We find this works better than just laying down the law,” Timotin said. “Usually responsible people, when they know what the requirements are, will comply with them.”

In the past, inspectors have been invited to Nunavut on occasion, but Timotin said the department now plans to be more “proactive” and visible.

That’s because, last December, Transport Canada took over a number of responsibilities for marine safety and security from the Canadian Coast Guard, including pleasure craft safety, marine navigation services, pollution prevention and response, and navigable waters protection.

Transport Canada is also in charge of developing and managing marine legislation, regulations, standards and guidelines.

The department’s expanded role in Nunavut is good news to the Government of Nunavut’s Emergency Measures Organization, which started working on boating safety because the Coast Guard apparently lacked the resources to look after Nunavut.

Every year, there are mishaps on the water and searches for lost boaters, mainly due to bad weather and poor communication.

“You can be right in the middle of the Great Lakes and communicate without great trouble or expense, but up here, if you’re 30 kilometers away from home, you’re going to have a hard time communicating unless you have a satellite phone,” said EMO manager Eric Doig. “We have a very poor marine communication system.”

Education and prevention has been the focus of its boating safety program.

“At the end of the day, we want people out on the water who are in a safe environment. If we’ve given them the training, we feel a whole lot more confident about their ability to cope,” Doig said.

The EMO has targeted people in communities who have delivery skills and trained them in boating safety. Back home, armed with a duffle of educational tools, they offer courses and talk to user groups and schools.

“They say, ‘hopefully, you’ll go out and get the same skills your father has, but make sure you’re prepared, make sure you have all the required boating equipment and things you need to live in this Arctic environment.'”

Hunters or others using boats for personal use don’t need licenses yet in Nunavut, but this will change.

“There will come a time when it will be a requirement,” Doig said.

For commercial operators, the GN has been coordinating training for outfitters for accreditation, offering marine emergency duty courses as well as a limited master and captain’s course.

Certification has never been enforced in Nunavut, Doig said, although it’s something Transport Canada would like to see.

The GN’s route is to encourage compliance instead of resorting to enforcement.

Nunavut Tourism has no regulatory authority, but it’s also been encouraging its 50 to 60 member outfitters to take the necessary certification courses and upgrade their skills on the water.

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