© Rhonda Hayward photo
By Rebekah Ward
Special to The Telegram
A national organization that has a footprint in St. John’s, celebrated three-quarters of a century of bringing safety to boaters in a ceremony Friday.
The St. John’s chapter of the Canadian Power and Sail Squadron (CPS) raised the organization’s 75th anniversary flag outside of the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club in Conception Bay South.
The organization has 26,000 members across Canada, and the Avalon squadron has 150.
According to the squadron’s commander, Kris Drodge, the organization is focused on offering safety and skills courses.
“The most important thing we do right now is education,” Drodge said.
“We do a commendable job with some of our instructors, who have given extreme amounts of hours towards the work. And it’s all volunteer. Almost every week, throughout the fall and winter, we have two or three courses going on. Our boating essentials courses are generally full, about 15-20 people. Radio courses are routinely sold out.”
Since the Avalon Squadron was started in 1990, participation in these opportunities has grown.
“Probably a thousand (people) have taken our courses, but they won’t necessarily want to continue as a member,” past commander Ralph Barrett said.
Membership is not free, which might deter some hopefuls, although members do get a discount of about $50 on all CPS courses. Multi-week courses often cost in the low hundreds, according to the CPS website.
Drodge says a lack of visibility may also contribute to their low numbers.
“We don’t have a big advertising budget, it’s a volunteer organization so a lot of our stuff is word of mouth. We don’t have the ability to do a campaign,” Drodge said.
CPS is the largest non-governmental institution of its kind in Canada. Its traction in Newfoundland is growing gradually.
Any level of seaman can take CPS courses. The organization is geared towards the pleasure boating industry, which has been growing in recent years.
“Obviously the boating community is growing in Newfoundland and Labrador, especially in the Avalon district,” Drodge said.
“With everything else that’s going on, everything else is growing, and you’ll get more people buying boats.”
People are not only buying more boats, but they’re buying more expensive, more high-tech rigs.
“On the water, (now) people tend to get bigger boats, faster boats,” Drodge said.
Sometimes these stepups encourage even experienced seamen to seek further education. Safety courses like those provided by the CPS are not offered in enough places to meet that demand, Drodge says.
“We’ve tried to develop squadrons around the Lewisporte and Cornerbrook areas, and we’ve had some interest, and then that seems to wane away,” Drodge said.
“So we’re continuously looking for interest to get out to the rest of Newfoundland, but right now we’re mainly just in the St. John’s area. There’s a greater concentration of boats here, but when you have communities like Clarenville, Lewisporte and the Bay of Islands, where boating is growing every day, they’re looking for these courses as well, and unfortunately a lot of people are not getting the education they require.”
The Avalon squadron is still relatively young, and has time to gain momentum. It is possible, though, that Newfoundlanders don’t feel they need as much formal education on the subject.
“We don’t see a lot of pleasure boating incidents out here,” Drodge said.
“If people were not being educated, though, you would see the same kinds of accidents (as you do elsewhere in Canada). But we have a strong history of boating, so there is that underlying instinct of how to protect yourself, and (accidents are) not as prevalent as other provinces. In Newfoundland we already have it in our culture.”