Powerboat ban proposed on Canadian river after recent accidents

Back-to-back jetboat accidents on a river in Vancouver, B.C., are prompting some to call for a powerboat ban on the river.
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Back-to-back jetboat accidents on a river in Vancouver, B.C., — one that claimed the life of a well-known fly fishing expert — are prompting some to call for a powerboat ban on the river.

Ron Hjorth, 64, drowned Monday when a jetboat flipped over on the upper Pitt River.

“This may upset a few people, but it’s time to have that river listed as unnavigable, just because it eats so many boats,” Kelly Davison, owner of Sea-Run Fly & Tackle in Coquitlam, B.C., told the Vancouver Sun on Tuesday.

“The thing with the upper Pitt, it’s a very changeable river, even daily. Where there was a safe passage before, it can be gone by afternoon. I can’t think of all the times there’s been an accident. It’s time to make that river basically just for rafting and not power.”

Hjorth was Davison’s employee. Three other adults survived.

“He’s been in the fishing industry most of his life,” Davison said. “He was fishing with friends on one of his favorite rivers. He’s fished up there a fair bit and knows the area.”

Alex Te Brinke, owner of Venture River Boats in Chilliwack, B.C., said he’d support the creation of jet boat/swift-water rescue courses to better prepare boaters for running the river. He also recommends that boaters carry a grapple-type anchor to slow or stop their descent, should they lose power.

But he opposes closing the upper Pitt, saying other rivers hold their share of dangers and that it would rob people of the opportunity to fish the area. “If you close that river, you might as well close them all.”

Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Jamie Chung said the jetboat with three men and a woman left Grant Narrows at the south end of Pitt Lake for a fishing trip on Monday morning. They had mechanical trouble on the upper Pitt River, the 6-meter boat drifted downstream without power, hit a log, took on water and sank.

On Sunday, two other jetboaters also flipped their vessel near the latest accident. All survived a swim in icy, swift-flowing waters.

Jetboats are especially vulnerable when traveling downstream because they need to maintain their speed for steering, Davison said. An engine malfunction or getting gravel sucked into the jet pump can leave boaters at risk of drifting downstream and winding up in a logjam and flipping.

“It’s very easy to go upstream and very difficult to come downstream,” Davison said. “You have to be moving and you have the speed of the current. All it takes is one miscalculation. It’s the type of river where you have to be very, very careful. It’s not one for the faint of heart or inexperienced.”

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