This screenshot taken from a video shot by surf instructor Shannon Brown shows a watercraft operator in the surf zone off Chesterman Beach. Since being shared on social media, the video has sparked concerns over water safety. (Image from video by Shannon Brown)

Tofino beachgoers ‘horrified’ by jet-skis in surf zone

Online video of Sea-Doo operating within 50 metres of neophyte surfers causes alarm

A Tofino resident and former municipal councillor is questioning whether personal watercrafts should be allowed to share the same waves as swimmers and surfers at local beaches.

Cathy Thicke recently shared a video on social media that shows at least two Sea-Doo or Jet Ski operators riding waves close to shore and near surfers at Chesterman Beach.

Thicke told the Westerly News that the video was shot by her son in law and local surf instructor Shannon Brown and she posted it online to see whether her safety concerns would be shared by others.

“I was quite distressed to see it…People on soft tops who were learning and young kids were less than 50 metres away. So, I thought, that doesn’t look right, that doesn’t look good, that doesn’t look safe, what should we be doing about that on our beaches?” she said. “I thought that if I feel horrified looking at this, I wonder if other people feel the same and, if that is the case, then we should do something as a municipality towards sorting that out.”

The video quickly gained traction and garnered nearly 100 comments, the vast majority of which expressed discomfort and distress about the safety of those near the watercrafts.

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne told the Westerly news via email that the town’s local government does not regulate ocean activities as that falls under federal jurisdiction and that Tofino’s council would not be considering any new bylaws stemming from the concerns sparked by the video.

“We do take issues like this very seriously though—as should everyone—because clearly, motorized vessels and surfers cannot use the surf zone at the same time,” she said. “I understand that people often want Council or District staff to know about poor behaviour, and feedback from residents is useful to inform our decision-making on municipal matters like beach fires, noise, and how to fund and deploy bylaw enforcement resources. It’s also helpful feedback for communications and messaging that’s undertaken by the District and agencies like Tourism Tofino.

“The truth is that the vast majority of feedback we hear really boils down to one simple thing: a lack of respectful and courteous behaviour. I think we’d all like to see more of that at times, right?”

READ MORE: Tofino woman beseeches town for nude beach

Nearby beaches within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, like Cox Bay, Long Beach and Wickaninnish Beach prohibit all powered personal watercrafts within 750 metres of the high water mark.

The rules in Tofino are less clear, with no bylaws in place regulating ocean activities, though the district’s Public Property Use Regulation Bylaw prohibits “launch[ing] any motorized vessel from any public beach unless by means of a facility provided for such a purpose,” and also bans “any loud, objectionable or unnecessary noise from a motor vehicle or vessel.”

Sgt. Todd Pebernat of the Tofino RCMP told the Westerly that the watercrafts at Chesterman were not investigated because police “only became aware after the incident.”

Osborne urges residents to reach out to the RCMP when they see any unsafe activities.

“In this case, the RCMP would have been contacted and could have quickly taken action to identify the [watercraft] operators and follow up much faster than what ended up occurring,” she said.

“To reiterate: whether you see dangerous driving on a Tofino road, a huge bonfire on the beach, dangerous boating, helicopters landing on crowded beaches, or any other unsafe activity, call 911. It only takes seconds.”

She added that if a report about dangerous activity turns out to be a municipal bylaw matter, police will reach out to the district office.

“There is a close working relationship between RCMP and District of Tofino’s bylaw department,” she said.

Thicke suggested beaches in other municipalities have regulations around motorized vessels and she hopes the community can collaborate on a set of rules governing local shores, adding that Tourism Tofino could then help educate visitors on what’s expected of them when they’re enjoying the ocean.

“I pressed the council to take some leadership on that. Nobody seemed to be clear on whether it was OK or wasn’t OK,” she said. “You’ve got people in the surf zone with young kids there, so that to me was a bit of a problem.”

She added the recent incident was the first time she’d ever seen watercrafts in the surf zone.

“I’d just like to see safe use of Sea-Doos within Clayoquot Sound,” she said. “Some uses are good and fun but, when you get in the surf zone in proximity to people who are swimming or surfing, that’s clearly a very dangerous situation.”

She added clarity is needed on what the rules are quickly because local beaches are beginning to fill up as the provincial government eases travel restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t want to hear about an accident involving a young child who was completely defenceless in a situation because somebody else wants to have some fun, that’s not OK,” she said.

READ MORE: Transport Canada investigating after helicopter lands on Tofino Beach

The VI Free Daily reached out to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada for clarification on who is responsible for regulating personal watercrafts in surf zones, but did not hear back by the time of this post.

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andrew.bailey@westerlynews.ca

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