A mother and her two adult children set out on a pool floatie from Hamilton’s harbour equipped with oars, an airhorn and a cellphone at 10 p.m. Four hours later, unable to paddle back to shore, the family was forced to call 911 for help as ships passed them in the night.
Hamilton’s commercial harbour on Lake Ontario is one of the busiest in Canada. The ships range from 400 to 1,000 feet long and pass through the shipping channel to get to nearby steel plants.
The Hamilton police’s marine unit was able to locate the trio using GPS coordinates from the cellphone which aided in the rescue. A ship nearby kept a floodlight on the group for police to see them in the darkness.
“If we have to do a search at night, we have radar to help us. However, they [floaties] are so small and there’s nothing really to them, so it wouldn’t have shown up,” explained Const. Mark Phibbs with the Hamilton Police marine unit. By the time the marine unit located them, they had drifted 4 kilometres from shore. In 15 years of combined experience, the marine unit has never had to perform a rescue for a wayward pool floatie.
Police remind the public that recreational floatation devices should be tied off when used in large and deep bodies of water and that the unpredictability of these leisure floatation devices can be dangerous and untrustworthy.
Although the situation ended with all three being rescued and no injuries, Phibbs says in, “a lake like Lake Ontario, if you get blown out into the middle, it could take hours to find you.” The floaties are intended to float not to navigate. Once you launch a floatie as a means for travel, that’s when you legally have to have safety equipment on board.
The family could have faced around $800 worth of fines for violating sections of the Canadian Shipping Act as none of the people on board were wearing lifejackets, a flashlight, or buoyant heaving line at the time they launched the floatie into Lake Ontario.
The fines are steep Phibbs warns, starting at $240 and going up from there. It serves as a warning for would-be night floaters.
“[You] have got to think of the safety behind it because the water is very unpredictable,” he says. “We’re not always going to be there to save you.”