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Backroads Whistler consults with Ottawa

Transport Canada to release online training guide for boat rental agencies for 2019 boating season

A Whistler adventure tourism company is helping a team of Ottawa maritime officials develop an online training program for boat rental agencies.

"Boating is fun, for sure, but there is an inherent risk," explained Eric Wight, owner-operator of Backroads Whistler. "We want to mitigate that risk as much as possible."

Wight recently returned from a trip to Ottawa, where he met with a working group that is providing recommendations to Transport Canada on the development of the training program.

The working group is comprised of industry stakeholders from across Canada, including those from boat-rental agencies, law enforcement, insurance companies, and boating safety associations.

The training program will be based on a set of guidelines for boat-rental agencies. The guidelines were developed two years ago with input from Wight and two other stakeholders.

The new online training program is expected to be available to rental agencies and their staff for the 2019 boating season.

The next step will be to produce a video that that highlights some of the safety precautions implemented by Backroads Whistler and other companies, said Wight.

The goal is to get operators to voluntarily implement ideas that will "ultimately lead to a safer boating," he added, stressing that each company deals with a different and unique set of conditions, and a clientele with a wide range of experience.  

Wight said he was selected to give feedback to the National Boat Rental Agencies Best Practices Advisory Board three years ago, after officials with Transport Canada toured Backroads Whistler and found that it had instituted a number of innovative safety measures, from pre-trip safety talks to buying quality boats.

"Our boats are designed to run in that type of water," said Wight, referring to the River of Golden Dreams, on which his company hosts tours and provides rentals.

When asked about safety innovations, Wight pointed to an easy-to-understand map of the river in Alta Lake Park, where his business is headquartered.

Wight developed it shortly after starting his business, and then it was adopted by the Resort Municipality of Whistler.

"We felt that we had a duty of care to our guest, to give them information on what they're about to paddle," he said.

The map shows the various bends in the river, and the Tapley's area, where it is recommended to portage past a bridged section of the river according to the water level.

Depending on the weather, the height of the river can fluctuate by about a metre, said Wight.

For this year so far, Wight said: "We've lost that snowpack with the hot weather we've had in May, so I'm not expecting a high-water year anymore, which is great for the general public, because they're going to be able to go down the river and not have the issues we thought they would."

Wight said that over the years his clientele has changed, reflecting changes to Whistler's tourism sector at large.

"Back in the day, we used to have only athletic people visiting us. Now we're getting destination guests because it's a four-season resort," said Wight, stressing the need to have gear that suits everyone.

"We're realizing some of our guests don't have much knowledge, and I think the adventure industry as a whole in Whistler is adjusting operations to the type of guests we have now."

Wight said he is thrilled to have been selected to share his knowledge with Transport Canada.

"It's an honour to be called by my country to come and help," he said. "It's sure kind of nice to be recognized that what we're doing is of value."