No more litter. Rejoice risky. Reckless speeds. Toronto’s wave of COVID-19 party boats leaves plenty of complaints in its wake


More and more boats are hitting the waters around Toronto as people stay in the city instead of traveling. But with that, there have been complaints of more litter on the waterways, speeding tickets, loud music at night, and near-collisions off the coast of Toronto.

Gordon Ballantyne, who is part of the management team at the Toronto Island Marina in the Toronto Islands, says in recent years he has seen an increase in party boats arriving on the islands at night and entering various lagoons and waterways, resulting in noise complaints. This year, however, he says the number of such boats has increased tenfold. Often, he says, ships will connect to each other and people will jump from boat to boat – without physically distancing themselves or wearing masks.

“With the closure, there is a nightlife in Toronto that cannot happen. Obviously, there is always a huge demand from the crowd and I can only assume that the promoters figured it out and transferred it to the water where there is not the same level of d ‘application,’ he says. “It just becomes a big shared stage… Sometimes you will see two or three boats, which is not much of a problem, but one night there were 34 to 40 boats.

Gatherings are usually held late at night, when marina staff have returned home, Ballantyne says.

“About three weeks ago there was a congregation near the Center Island Bridge. It all started with five boats at 7 pm, then 10 am to 3 pm to 8 pm and around 40 boats at midnight, ”he says. “The police responded but all they could do was warn people and (get them to) turn down the music.

Ballantyne hopes the city will be more involved in enforcing noise regulations and large gatherings.

Robert Grossman, a member of the Island Yacht Club, says he has noticed an increase in the number of boats traveling at high speed around the islands, playing loud music and creating large waves that disturb other boaters and contribute to the shore erosion.

“People would regularly light bonfires at Hanlan’s Point (Beach), which is against the regulations, and play amplified music,” he says, adding that he has had to tell boaters to slow down in recent weeks. . “Two Saturdays ago the nincompoop lit paper lanterns with candles and they crossed the island. The whole island could have gone up in smoke. The behavior is simply absurd.

Her boating mate Mary Jane Braide, who lives on her boat all summer, says she’s happy more people are on the lake this summer, but seeing more empty and empty beer cans.

“I would love to have a bigger boating culture and see more people enjoying the water because we’ve all been locked inside, but we just need to do it in a more reasonable way,” she says. “It’s really dangerous to see people come in here at high speed when there are people in pedal boats and canoes and they’re just wiped out.

Breaking safety rules is nothing new, says Craig Hamilton, a Port Credit-based powerboat and sailing instructor. His company, Boater Skills, teaches boaters of all skill levels how to handle water. “This is not a purely COVID effect – every year we find boaters who are poorly educated or who are not (attentive) to others. There seem to be more this year. Every yacht broker I have spoken with has reported a substantial increase in boat sales and we have seen a huge increase in the number of people coming to us for courses.

The problem, he adds, is that all a person technically needs to buy a boat is a Pleasure Craft Operator Card, which can be obtained by taking an online test that costs $ 40. Common sense would cause the new boat owner to sign up for lessons, Hamilton says, and insurance companies or marina management would usually tell them to learn how to properly operate a boat – but that is not always the case. He would like to see stricter regulations put in place by Transport Canada to ensure better safety of personal watercraft.

Other jurisdictions have attempted to tackle party boats where capacity and physical distance rules were not followed, as well as to deal with the rising tide of boats in general. Last week in New York City, the owners of a riverboat were arrested for operating an unlicensed bar and bottle club. Authorities told the New York Times the boat was hosting a party with more than 170 guests. Photos of a crowded party boat in Boston have also been circulating on social media recently, and complaints of increased wakes and speeding tickets have also been filed in British Columbia as more people are buying and renting boats this year.

Carlton Grant, executive director of Toronto Municipal Licensing and Standards, which understands bylaw enforcement, says he’s aware of the boat problem over the past weekends, especially when it comes to “rafting. – a large number of boats meeting on the water.

He says the ministry has deployed Toronto police, bylaws and public health staff to the docks on weekend evenings to educate boaters and water taxi drivers, discouraging people from bring DJ equipment and large amounts of alcohol, which he says indicates large gatherings. Grant adds that he has seen Eventbrite and Facebook web pages promoting upcoming gatherings on the water, although they ended up being canceled. “I don’t know if it’s because we intercepted them or if they just realized it wasn’t the right thing to do,” he said.

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Since April, his department has received 34 complaints related to large boat gatherings. “People don’t have a place to go right now and we hope that with the reopening of more places the activity will decrease, but it is important that people stay in their social bubbles and do not hold back. large social gatherings, ”says Grant.

“Many legitimate cruise operators suspended their services during the shutdown and private operators saw an opportunity to replace bars or nightclubs. We are aware of this and people say we have seen large gatherings of people without masks. This is something that we are trying to solve with education. “

Karon Liu is a Toronto-based cultural journalist for The Star. Follow him on Twitter: @karonliu


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