Cottager goes to jail for impaired boat driving

Last July, 23-year-old cottager Colin Eadie was involved in a boating accident. It was dark—around 3 a.m. He was driving when the boat hit an island. His best friend died. That’s the short story.

Eadie, who is the same age as my daughter and her friends, is now serving two years in Millhaven, a maximum-security prison. He was charged with “operating a vessel with a blood-alcohol content exceeding the legal limit of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood,” “dangerous operation of a vessel causing death,” and “impaired operation of a vessel causing death.” He pleaded guilty to the third charge.

How easy it is to be seduced by summer. A hot day, a cool lake. Swimming, tubing, skiing, and a barbecue to follow. Perhaps there’s a campfire and singing. Someone has brought a guitar. And as the party winds down, a group of friends gets into a boat for the short trip home across the lake.

That was my experience one evening some years ago, at the end of a perfect summer day. A bunch of us were staying at an island cottage. That night, after dinner, we drove the boat to a party at a friend’s cottage, on another island about 10 minutes away through twisting channels. By the time we were ready to leave, it was raining. It was also clear that our boat driver, who knew the way, was too drunk to drive home. No problem. The rest of us thought we could get the boat back to the cottage. We followed the shoreline as close as we dared. But in the rain, in the pitch black, and in waters booby-trapped with rocks and shoals, it was a long, frightening journey. Talk about impaired driving. Partway back, not sure exactly where we were, we handed the helm back to our inebriated host. I know better now.

Would you get into a boat with someone who has been drinking? Would your children? We teach our kids that it’s not okay to drink and drive cars. We tell them to call us—at any time of the night—if they need a ride home because their driver has had a few drinks. Now our culture on the water needs to catch up with our culture on the roads. Drinking and driving boats (even drinking while driving boats) has become a lifestyle. But alcohol is not discriminatory. It affects our balance, dulls our reflexes, and impairs our judgment no matter where we are. We need to make it as socially unacceptable to drink and drive on the lake as it is on the highway.

At the lake, we need to teach our children—by example—not to to drink and drive. At parties, we need to be a friend and take away the boat keys of a buddy who is impaired.

Colin Eadie wants everyone to know about his story. “While we had been drinking, I thought I was in full control,” he wrote in an open letter, posted below. “I did not feel impaired or the least bit unsafe. It was a dark night, but I felt I knew the lake well and could navigate home without a problem. I was wrong.”

Cottagers have so much to celebrate at this time of year: opening-up; the return of leaves, flowers, and birds; that first swim; family. This year, let’s celebrate a summer with no boating fatalities. Let’s all spread the word that drinking and boating don’t mix.

From Colin Eadie:

Last July, I was the driver in a boating accident on Lake of Bays that resulted in the death of my best friend. Matt was a friend from high school and we played on the football team together. We had been trying to find a weekend for him
to come to the lake and finally arranged the weekend of July 9th. It was perfect weather—clear skies and calm waters. After a wonderful day on Saturday, we headed out in the evening to visit friends around the lake. Around 3 a.m., we decided to come home in my boat. While we had been drinking, I thought I was in full control. I did not feel impaired or the least bit unsafe. It was a dark night, but I felt I knew the lake well and could navigate home without a problem. I was wrong. We hit Pancake Island in the dark. Of the four of us in the boat, three walked away with only minor physical injuries. Matt did not. The lives of his family and friends have been devastated. I was responsible for Matt’s safety, as he was my guest and I was the driver.

I never believed this could happen to me. I thought I was in control. I was aware of the dangers of drinking and driving a car, but I felt boating had a different standard. I was incredibly wrong, and I wanted to share this with everyone to increase the awareness of the dangers of drinking and boating. Even though it is the summer and everything is relaxed, there is no relaxing of the rules or the dangers.

This accident has devastated the Ludlow family. Matt was a kind, outgoing, generous guy who will be missed each and every day by his mother, father, and brother. I wake every day thinking of him and what could have been. My own family has also been affected, and the strain on them has been immense.

I am now facing the legal consequences of my decision—prison time, criminal record, legal expenses, and the loss of my driver’s licence. As bad as these consequences are, they pale in comparison to the loss of my friend.  I would do anything to turn back the clock or to switch places, but I can’t.

I beg you all to recognize the dangers. There is no place for drinking and driving a boat. Once I am through whatever penalty I face, I would be pleased to address any group, young or old, on the dangers of drinking and boating.

—Colin Eadie, via e-mail

Boating while impaired is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. Find out more about Canada’s laws around alcohol and boating.