A survey conducted by Safe and Quiet Lakes has shown a sharp increase in concerns over boating, safety and noise on lakes across the region.
Colleen Kennedy, a director at Safe and Quiet Lakes presented the 2021 survey results to Gravenhurst council at the April 13 Committee of the Whole meeting. The opt-in survey, which is the largest in North America, had 6,000 respondents and produced a 72-page report.
“People are saying loudly to us through the survey that people love the lakes and want to share them,” Kennedy said at the start of her presentation. However, the main messages that came across were that “noise and traffic is increasing, the quality of the lake experience is decreasing and safety is down.”
Growing frustration has “led to a growing desire for stronger interventions.” She said people seem open to more and different solutions, but the overall consensus is that they want the challenges to be addressed.
“More than 90% of the participants say we have a responsibility to preserve the natural state of the lake for future generations,” explained Kennedy. And 90%, including 89% of power boaters agree with this statement: “that motorboat operators have more responsibility to ensure the safe co-existence of activities on the lake,'” Kennedy said. “This is a strong consensus to build on…appreciating and preserving the natural environment is a part of lake life and is largely, but not exclusively on powerboats.”
In comparison to the 2013 and 2017 surveys, Kennedy said the concerns raised were the same this time, but “elevated,” she emphasized. The main issues cited relate to wakes, noise and speed. “The biggest impacts are boats, PWCs (personal watercraft) not following rules, travelling at high speed, big wakes. The biggest contributors to unwanted noise are PWCs and driving by with sound systems on. The most important impacts of wakes were shoreline erosion, dock investment damage, danger to paddlers and small boats.”
Kennedy said it was worth noting that PWCs represented the highest source of noise and behaviour complaints while only accounting for 5% of the crafts on the lake. “Compared to the 2013 and 2017 surveys, people were really angry about PWCs.”
Additionally, a “strong theme in the comments was the concern that there’s an erosion of respect for each other on the lakes,” Kennedy said. She said they received “more comments than all the Harry Potter books combined” and that a very high amount of comments were about development in the region–even though we didn’t ask about it–and correlating development with boat noise and safety.”
A change in the mix of boating activities over the last eight years may also account for the rise in safety concerns. “In the last eight years of our survey, the move has been to more kayaks, paddleboards and PWCs. More people who rate paddling as ‘very important’ to them translates to why they may feel less safe.”
“Two-thirds of respondents said they perceive that there is more boat traffic, more boat noise and a greater impact of boat wakes than five years ago on the three large Muskoka lakes,” Kennedy said. “More importantly and most disturbingly is that 52% said the overall quality of their lake experience is trending down.”
Based on a combination of data and comments, Kennedy said that biggest irritants were “bigger, louder, more powerful boats, reckless or unskilled drivers and driving behaviours. New irritants are PWCs, sound systems, wake surfing boats and other groups of boaters who dominate the water. We even got float plane complaints.”
Other statistics indicate the public wants these issues addressed, with 71% wanting more no-wake zones, 70% were in favour of stronger enforcement and 67% want enforcement of laws on water exhausts and establishing decibel limits.
Kennedy concluded by saying that Safe and Quiet Lakes would continue to focus on outreach, advocacy and research and building partnerships with municipalities, lake associations and other stakeholders. This year the group has distributed over 200 ‘no wake’ signs and boater code cards and are continuing using radar in the Wakes and Speed project. Kennedy said she believed there was one sign already at Muskoka Wharf, but that she would like more, and larger signage.
Kennedy finished by urging council to join the Decibel Coalition, which currently has over 65 member associations including Bracebridge, Seguin and The Muskoka Lakes. The project was launched by Transport Canada to consult with the Canadian public on decibel levels. “We want reasonable standards that are consistent with the U.S. and European Union and that are easy to enforce,” she said.
“Everyone is ready for change,” Kennedy concluded.
More information and the survey report can be found at safequiet.ca
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