Blue Heron Power and Sail Squadron teaches boating safety on P.E.I.

Mary MacKay
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Blue Heron Power and Sail Squadron members and volunteers John MacKinnon, left, and David Beaton are spreading the word about this non-profit organization that teaches boating safety to the general public.

Driver’s training is a common choice for newbies venturing out on the road for the first time.

But when it comes to safe boating practices, apart from obtaining the required Pleasure Craft Operator’s Card (PCOC) in order to operate a powered vessel, people often assume it’s a learn-as-you-cruise approach.

Prince Edward Island’s Blue Heron Power and Sail Squadron is hoping to change that mindset.

This local, non-profit organization is part of the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron (CPS), which this year is celebrating 75 years of teaching boating safety.

“We’re basically about educating people. That’s what we’ve been doing for 75 years,” says John MacKinnon, who has been volunteering with the local squadron since the mid-1980s.

At that time what was then called the Charlottetown Power Squadron was down to about six members.

But things took an upswing, and there are now approximately 150 members, many of whom are instructors for several boat courses available to the general public.

“Imagine if you were going down the street and there were no stop lights, no centre lane and you’re just driving. Who would know (what to do?). It’s like that on the water when people don’t know. It’s concerning sometimes,” says Blue Heron squadron volunteer Dave Beaton.

In addition to the basic required PCOC course, the Blue Heron Power and Sail Squadron offers courses in the fundamentals of weather, sailing, navigation skills and more.

“You get drawn in to wanting to find out more and learn more. You get the basics and you say ‘Well what else is there? Piloting? What’s that?’ That’s when you take your charts and you start to plot paths just like you would take out your road map and (plan a road trip),” Beaton says.

“We do the same thing on paper and then of course today with technology we can do the same thing electronically. But it’s awfully nice to have the knowledge of how you do it on paper because if everything shuts down and you don’t have any power or electronic navigation it’s nice to be comfortable enough to do it (manually).”

The weather course is another interesting educational option for boaters to explore.

“Not just for the safety aspect of being on the water and seeing some strange looking cloud and having an idea of ‘I have this much time to get myself in gear to get to some safe port,’ it’s also fun to be sitting on the deck in the middle of the afternoon and to be noticing the different cloud formations that you learn a little bit about . . . ,” Beaton says.

Those who venture out on the water may not know all the rules and regulations surrounding safe boating.

One lesser-known fact is that there must be a personal flotation device onboard that fits each and every passenger, both large and small.

“A lot of people have lifejackets on board but if you put an adult lifejacket on a little kid (for example) the first thing the child will do is put their hands over their head and the lifejacket will slip off. So it’s a $250 fine to start with and then $100 for every lifejacket (onboard) that doesn’t fit after that,” MacKinnon says.

Inspired by a tragic incident one winter, members of Blue Heron Power and Sail Squadron co-ordinated the installation of sponsored dock ladders along the Charlottetown waterfront.

“(Once you’re in the water) it’s so difficult to get back out, and if you’re fully clothed it’s even tougher ... ,” Beaton says.

There is now a total of 16 sponsored deck ladders at Charlottetown Yacht Club and Quartermaster Marina. The squadron is looking for additional sponsors to add more ladders in the coming years.

The national CPS organization has more than 26,000 members in 155 squadrons across Canada and is recognized as the largest organization of its kind in the world.

Since 1938, it has taught boating safety to more than 850,000 boaters from coast to coast.

“When you’re on the water and you’re not sure as to what you should do, that should be of concern,” Beaton says.

“Part of our job is to encourage people to learn the basics and then they find out that there’s so much more to boating than just knowing on which side of the vessel to pass.

“There are all the aspects of if you’re taking friends and family out on your boat, what if something goes wrong? What are your responsibilities? Everything is great if everything is going good, but if something goes wrong it could lead to tragedy if you don’t know what course of action to take. We just want to make the water a safer place to go out and have fun.”



Fast facts

Upcoming classes being presented by Blue Heron Power and Sail Squadron volunteers are as follows:

Boating Essentials, starts Wednesday, Nov. 27, 7-9 p.m., and runs approximately eight to 10 weeks at Charlottetown Rural High School. The cost is $170; for a second family member sharing some materials it is $125.

Electronic Navigation, starts Thursday, Jan. 9 7-9 p.m., and runs approximately eight weeks at Charlottetown Rural High School. The cost for CPS members is $150; for non-members, it is $185.

Sailing, starts Thursday, Jan. 9 7-9 p.m., and runs approximately eight weeks at Charlottetown Rural High School. The cost for CPS members is $150; for non-members, it’s $185.

Fundamentals of Weather/Global Weather, TBD depending on instructor availability, at Charlottetown Rural High School. The cost for CPS members is $110 each course and for non-members $145 for each course.

For more information on how to sponsor a dock ladder or to sign up for one of the winter courses, visit, email

Greg MacKay at or call 394-2852.

Organizations: Blue Heron Power, Charlottetown Power Squadron, Pleasure Craft Operator Canadian Power Charlottetown Rural High School

Geographic location: Blue Heron, Prince Edward Island

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