Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com

GRAVENHURST — The boats are back.

The OPP’s happy — so is the Town of Gravenhurst.

And Ontario’s lakes will be a lot safer now until December.

After the Doug Ford government closed the Ontario Fire College last year, the province’s police marine training unit was port-less after 36 springs on Lake Muskoka.

Over the fall and winter the OPP landed a deal with the Town of Gravenhurst for improved dockage space for their 16 boats at the Muskoka Wharf and better accommodation for 50+ officers the Marriott Residence Inn Hotel.

It was like a homecoming, bringing the training centre and the officers downtown from the north end of the main street.

Police from across the province began the first of two five-day training courses Monday — followed by another 10-day course the final two weeks of May.

Sgt. Dave Moffatt, the OPP’s provincial marine co-ordinator, said this morning — at an official launch of the new site — that the closing of the college left them high and dry with little equal choice till Gravenhurst and the Marriott “opened their doors and said ‘Why don’t you come here.’”

Sgt. Dave Moffatt says “Lake Muskoka has all the navigation hazards and markers we need to train officers properly. So when we leave this area they can go anywhere in the province and be a good boater.”

Moffatt said the new location is ideal with room for 12 training boats and two slightly larger instructor boats at the hotel’s waterfront doorstep.

The town also provided boat storage space on shore for the month.

Most importantly it keeps the unit on the same body of water, which Moffatt knows so well and perfectly suits training on Muskoka’s big and small water bodies.

“Lake Muskoka has all the navigation hazards and markers we need to train officers properly. So when we leave this area they can go anywhere in the province and be a good boater. What Lake Muskoka offers us here — all over the province is the same stuff.

“So if you’re a good boater on Lake Muskoka, you’ll be a good boater anywhere else.”

Moffatt says “it’s a very busy course” that also includes night navigation. Training that goes all day and in to the night when “we get back about one in the morning.

“So these officers have a really well-rounded knowledge of how to be good marine officer and night operation is part of it.”

At the end of the 10 days they get their OPP marine boating certificate.

Moffatt said police get calls 24/7.

“We can’t pick and choose when we go out in the boats.”

Like to investigate as happened in a fatal boating accident up at the north end of the Muskoka Lakes two summers ago when Kevin O’Leary’s boat was and another boat collided.

The OPP’s marine training unit has moved downtown to the Muskoka Wharf after 36 years at the Ontario Fire College, which the Doug Ford government closed last year with no sign yet of selling or using the prime piece of Muskoka real estate.

He said officers are “well-schollared on all aspects of the job.”

Moffatt said the course also includes lectures from the OPP’s Underwater Search and Recovery Unit, also based in Gravenhurst.

“They tell them what best they can do to help with their job.”

This week’s first course includes officers from the OPP, Peel Region, Ottawa and Treaty 3 officers from Kenora and Rama. The second course included 19 MNR conservation officers and five more from the OPP.

“We have a vast number of people who want to take this course,” said Moffatt

Police marine officers are in the water as early as March, in south-western Ontario, and go until Dec. 1. Many of them who have gone through courses in Gravenhurst.

With the water 6 degrees today, Moffatt said police are making sure that early boaters know the water “is freezing.”

He said “No matter the temperature, where your life jacket. Be prepared, protect yourself. Tell people where you’re going.

“There are so many great things you should know about being a better boater. The best thing I can say is download the Safe Boating Guide from Transport Canada. If you read that you’ll become a better boater instantly. Read it, know it. Your job is to get home safely at night. No matter the time.”

The Town of Gravenhurst welcomed back the marine unit to the Muskoka Wharf providing docking and storage in front of the Morriott Residence Inn Hotel where 50+ police and MNR officers will live and learn in May.

Moffatt said there should be no reason to be fearful if police wave you down on the lake or pull up alongside your boat.

It’s all about boater safety.

“Our marine officers want to make sure you’re safe.”

But beware boaters who drink and drive.

“We’re looking for impaired boaters. Alcohol has no place on the water. Please don’t have alcohol on your boats. Make sure you’re sober when driving the boat.”

Also have proper safety equipment on board.

“It’s important that you have it. We’re not just making this up.”
That means a throw line, whistle, paddle and lifejackets (PFDs).

“These are things that you may not need now, but you may need later. These rules are there for a reason, so please abide by them,” added Moffatt.

“We have so many new boaters out there. They don’t know how to operate a boat.”

It’s also about “courtesy” boating — like not speeding.

“You have to understand, you can’t drive by another boat at 70 miles an hour — and the other boat’s 20 feet away. You can’t do that.

“It’s important to understand that you’re sharing the waterway just like other people. You have to share the waterway.

“It’s not easy to drive a boat. We don’t have lines on the road. We don’t have signals.”

Moffatt concludes by saying “To become a better boater is to be courteous. To understand what happens with your wakes — don’t drive too close to shore. Don’t go driving too early; don’t go waterskiing at 6 in the morning. Things like that. It’s a simple thing.

“You want to be boater, so that if you’re on shore and you see boater, and you’re going ‘that’s a good boater.’

“It is important to learn the skills of a operating your boat safely, operating your boat properly. And that courtesy to be a better boater. It’s that simple.”

The two instructor boats sit in the waterfront of the Marriott hotel, which is mere metres from the docks unlike the fire college that was bit away up the hill from the lake.
Twenty-four police officers from the OPP, Peel, Ottawa and First Nations at Rama and Kenora started their two-week training on Monday. A second 10-day training course follows right after.
Swabbing the deck and getting the boats ship shape are part of the daily routine for officers who must also learn to care for the marine units back home.
The OPP have 12 training boats and two slightly larger ones for instructors, which are maintained by their staff.
With the ice out several weeks on the Gravenhurst Bay, the marine unit shares the space with the tin boathouses on the original Muskoka Wharf.

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