American pleasure crafts unwelcome in B.C. this year. (BP File Photo, Susan Quinn)

B.C. boaters on lookout for unwanted American travellers

Ad hoc group scanning boat data to catch boaters violating border rules during COVID-19

The U.S.-Canada border is closed because of COVID-19, so when B.C. boaters started noticing American pleasure craft in B.C. waters, they got concerned.

More to the point, they started doing something about it.

The group of six or seven people, loosely organized through the Council of B.C. Yacht Clubs, is using computer programs to monitor marine activity on the B.C. coast, with a focus on American boats that linger where they shouldn’t.

These coastline watchdogs are perusing websites like www.marinetraffic.com, that shows a real-time map of vessels all over the world with the vibe of an early 90s video game. Boats with automatic identification systems (AIS) transmit their name, where the boat is registered, boat type (fishing, sailboat, ferry, transport, etc.), trajectory, speed and location. Users can watch the boats blip around the ocean, or sit still in docks.

Most are Canadian registered, but a few times a day, the group spots an American boat. If that boat looks like they’re recreating, it gets reported to Canadian Border Services Agency. Boaters with essential business in Alaska are permitted to travel through Canadian waters, but are required to take the most reasonable direct route and make no stops.

“That’s part of our problem, because we’re not seeing that,” said council president Bill Wilson. “We’ve tracked a number of boats to Port McNeill, where some have stayed a couple of days. There’s some that have gone to Desolation Sound, some to Pendrell Sound,” said Wilson, noting the areas are popular with recreational boaters.

In one case, an Oregon-registered boat was spotted a few days after the first report with a brand-new Canadian flag, and fenders hung strategically to conceal its name and home berth.

“And he was telling people he was going to be cruising B.C. all summer!” Wilson said.

“American boaters coming here to recreate is of concern because B.C. has done quite a good job controlling the virus,” Wilson said. In comparison, infection rates in the U.S. are soaring.

There are remote coastal First Nations communities in B.C. who have closed their territory to outside visitors for good reason, Wilson said.

“They are really concerned about the virus getting into the community, and we are as well. The health resources are not as good in these areas as they are in somewhere like Vancouver, or even Nanaimo. Imagine if one American boater docked and had the virus, and it spread from there. We don’t want to see that.”

After the group submits data to Canadian Border Services Agency, members have no idea what happens. Wilson has heard of some fines being issued. On some busy, sunny weekends the group has also reported infractions to the RCMP, but they don’t get any follow up to learn what happens.

And, they don’t know how many boats the websites are missing.

“We’re only tracking the ones that are equipped with automatic identification systems. Some reports we’re getting are boats that don’t have those. We don’t know how many boats that don’t have these transmitters are coming through.”

READ MORE: Two U.S. boaters fined after B.C. RCMP find they broke COVID rules in Canadian waters

READ MORE: Dual Canadian-U.S. citizens face hostile reception on Vancouver Island

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


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