Fourteen more questions on the boating-licence test, as proposed by the Department of Transport, may be a good idea, but in the end there is no substitute for common sense - or for policing.
The nightmarish collision on Shuswap Lake, B.C., last weekend, seems to have had nothing to do with the interpretation of buoys, or with the wisdom of crossing waves in rough weather bow first, or with the rules of the marine road.
Soon before midnight on Saturday, a speedboat charged into a well lit houseboat, killing the latter's driver; eight people were hospitalized. The speedboat ended up lodged in the houseboat's cabin.
The police believe that high speed, drinking and a lack of lights were probably the causes of the accident. There is no need to study a handbook or to answer 36 or 50 questions in an online test to know that drunkenness and darkness are dangerous.
At present, motorboat owners are required to have a "pleasure craft operator card," after getting a mark of at least 75 per cent on a 36-question test, which is usually taken online. The Department of Transport gives accreditation to firms that provide tests and courses to prepare for them. The prevailing opinion is that most of the tests are not difficult. The small minority who fail can try again immediately. People can ask knowledgeable friends to sit beside them when they take the test and tell them the answers; there is no examination hall where stern invigilators stride back and forth.
This process at least conveys some symbolic sense of seriousness about a pleasure activity that many may treat too light-heartedly. On the other hand, it would be excessive to set up a whole regime with the watery equivalent of road tests for drivers' licences. Generally, lakes - not to mention oceans - allow more space than highways and streets, and the danger of collision and grave injury is far less with boats than with automobiles.
Tightening of the Department of Transport's licensing protocols would not have prevented outrageous accidents such as the one in Shuswap Lake. Ordinary good judgment - and enforcement of the laws against drunken operation of watercraft - could have done so.