When a pair of kayakers on a choppy Lake Nipissing needed rescue Monday, the OPP was quick to step in.
But two marina tenants warn it’s often private boaters that come to the rescue of inexperienced boaters and swimmers using rented or personal watercraft at the facility..
The experienced boaters, who wish to remain anonymous due to their tenancy at the marina, tell of three separate rescue situations, involving four people, that they have been directly involved in over the past two seasons. They also report that fellow marina users often talk about having to fish inexperienced boat renters from the lake.
The duo makes it clear that they support the enterprise and the development of the waterfront but as experienced boaters they see the potential for dangerous situations, even tragedy.
"At any other boat rental place we've seen, they give you a designated area in which to boat," which they don't here, said the man. "Here, there are no boundaries, and nobody's watching." At other establishments, there is a rescue boat or dinghy on hand in case of emergency. "There's nothing here," he said.
Inquiries at the boat rental business at the marina revealed that being able to swim or having boating experience were not necessary to rent a kayak. As long as a life jacket is worn, and the waiver is signed, anyone can rent.
Nipissing is well known for whipping up quickly.
"We know that lake goes from flat to wavy in five minutes," the boater added. “So if there is no boundary, and a boat has gone out too far, and those waves start to pick up, and the renter doesn't know any better to turn around and come back, he's going to be in trouble. Fast.
"After bringing so many people back to shore, I went and spoke to the Marina Supervisor. His reply to me was that 'we're not responsible' because they (renters) signed a waiver," he said.
"My reply was 'It's going to matter when somebody gets killed,' that waiver won't mean a thing when somebody loses their life. You are responsible because you let someone go out in dangerous conditions.’"
But Renee Vinett, a partner with Toronto law firm Howie, Sacks & Henry says be cautious when signing waivers.
"Generally the courts have found waivers to be valid and enforceable," says Vinett. "A challenge to the validity entails a legal analysis of the specific wording of the waiver itself and the circumstances surrounding the signing of the waiver. However, the courts have held that where an operator “knew it was putting the public in danger by providing a substandard product or service, or was reckless as to whether it was doing so”, it would be contrary against the public policy to allow the operator to avoid liability. Unfortunately, the court must find that the conduct of the operator was reprehensible in the circumstances.
"The best advice is to refrain from signing a waiver unless you are comfortable with the risks associated with the activity, as the waiver is likely to be found enforceable.”
The rental office looks out on the main body of the lake and experienced lake users can tell when conditions are deteriorating.
“Why are they renting in that weather? Is it about the money? No rules, no regulations. Those young guys working in the rental shop are going to be the ones left holding the bag," said the man.
Another sailor, when asked about any problems in waters around the marina, replied that any issues "come from the rental place, that's the problem."
Messages left for the rental owner, Daryl Vaillancourt, asking for comment were not returned.
The original marina tenants tell a tale from last summer in which they rescued a couple from a submerged rental canoe. The woman points to how ridiculous this situation has become, "We had to make two trips. One to rescue the people, another to tow in the rental property."
Another man on a standup paddle boat was alone in choppy conditions and crashed into the rock break wall.
"We rescued him, too. No one supervising. Awful conditions. And get this, they rented that same paddle boat out right away," said the man, shaking his head.
The third rescue involved a man in a rental kayak in less than ideal conditions.
"I can't fathom them renting anyone a boat in those conditions," said the man.
"When we brought the first people back to shore, other boaters in the marina warned 'there will be plenty more,'" said the woman.
David Jackowski, Facilities Manager for the city acknowledged there have been problems and complaints.
“We have been working on addressing some of the safety concerns that have been brought to our attention by our marina tenants. Some of the safety measures we are looking at implementing include maps that outline safe routes in-and-out of the marina and which identify the hazards that exist. Kayak and other nonmotorized craft operators also have the option to launch at Marathon Beach.”
But marina tenants believe the clock is ticking.
Asked if the rental operators have been lucky so far, the man exclaimed "Oh my, have they been lucky? They're rolling the dice. This city does not need someone to die down there."