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Not All Boating Incidents Have Tragic Endings
February 25th, 2013 @ 09:57 PM EST by admin

Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons (CPS) is celebrating their 75th Anniversary in 2013.  Since 1938 CPS has been Canada’s premier recreational boating educator and, as part of their celebration activities, a series of articles on boating and boating safety are being published in our newsletter. These articles have been written by John Gullick, CPS Manager, Government and Special Programs. John took his first CPS course 25 years ago and is now a Life Member. He is a Past Commodore of the Peterborough Sailing Club and has been Chairman or President of many recreational Boating organizations. He is a well-recognized Boating Safety Specialist and freelance writer.

By John Gullick
Background information courtesy of the Peterborough Examiner

I am writing about an incident that took place a number of years ago but is worth repeating. The situation could have been devastating but cool heads, quick thinking and the actions of a courageous 6 year old resulted in a happy ending for a family out for a ride in their antique boat.

On Saturday August 12th, 2006 an excellent story by staff writer Don Peat appeared in the Peterborough Examiner and the following information is taken from Don’s article:

The Saturday previous the Proulx family had been out for an evening ride in their antique boat on Catchacoma Lake where they were visiting cousins. When her father Martin, mother Joanne and 8 year old sister Sophie were thrown out of the boat, 6 year old Elise was left alone as the boat continued to circle out of control narrowly missing the family members in the water.

With directions being shouted by her father over the noise of the engine Elise proceeded to move to the front of the boat and turn off the ignition key. The boat came to a stop about 30 meters from the family. This was close enough for Martin to swim to it with Sophie, get her back in the boat and return for his wife. Joanne had scraped the skin off her left calf when her leg hit the windshield as she was being thrown overboard. When she entered the water the boat hit her and the propeller cut her right leg open to the bone striking an artery and cutting some tendons. Martin was able to get Joanne back in the boat, make her comfortable, get the boat back to their cousin’s cottage and stay with Joanne as Elise and Sophie went for help.

The phone line had just been restored that day following a major storm the week before so a 911 call was made. The daughter of Joanne’s cousin secured Joanne’s legs to reduce blood flow and Joanne was taken to Baldwin Bay Marina in Buchorn where they met township firefighters, Peterborough County EMS paramedics and the OPP. Joanne was administered additional first aid and transported to the Peterborough Regional Health Centre for assessment and surgery to reattach the tendons and skin on her legs. A few days later Joanne was released with bandages on her left leg and a cast on her right leg. She is now recuperating at the family cottage.

Joanne and Martin are very proud of their daughters and how they reacted to the traumatic incident. The Peterborough County OPP were also impressed, particularly by Elise’s quick action and presence of mind, so impressed in fact that they are nominating Elise for an OPP award for lifesaving.

OPP Constable Jim Searle said that awards are give to police and civilians who go above and beyond the expected. Searle said that Elise’s response was very courageous for a child. “It’s amazing and extremely heroic.”

Joanne agrees. “The first thing I said to Elise when I got back in the boat was, ‘You were a very brave and smart girl.’”

“I’m really proud of her.” Martin said “I feel extremely lucky; it’s inevitable not to think of the worst outcomes that could have occurred. We’re so thankful to everyone that was able to help.”

What went wrong?

When the wind blew Martin’s hat off his instinctive reaction was to grab for the hat thus releasing the steering wheel. When the wheel was released the boat immediately turned sharply throwing the three family members overboard.

What went right?

Earlier in the week the OPP marine unit had conducted a safety inspected of the boat and the officers indicated that everything was in proper operating order. This would have meant, among other things, that there were Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) or lifejackets on board for everyone and that required safety equipment was present.
Both Children were wearing those lifejackets.

Everyone kept their cool, Elise was able to switch off the engine and Martin was able to conduct a self rescue and the rescue of Sophie and Joanne. To be able to react so quickly to the rapidly escalating, potentially tragic event it is obvious to this writer that the whole family had knowledge of how to deal with a boating incident and had probably discussed boating safety together before hand.

The lessons to be learned are:

  1. Discuss with your family and other passengers how to best deal with potential emergency situations.
  2. Make sure everyone knows where the safety equipment on board is and how to use it.
  3. If you are operating a boat, take appropriate operator training.
  4. Wear your PFD or lifejacket while underway.
  5. If an incident takes place stay calm and follow what you have learned and discussed.

Congratulations Elise, job well done Sophie, Martin and Joanne who had a speedy and full recovery.

In Closing, if you have any specific boating safety related questions, please feel free to “Just Ask John” at jgullick@cps-ecp.ca