Harbour Safety Audit Concerns

At Monday’s Committee of the Whole Council meeting, the results of a Safety Audit of the Harbour were presented.  Also on the Agenda was a presentation by Jeremy Fowlie of the Dragon Boat and Canoe club who strongly criticized the “Audit” and said that implementing the recommendations would mean the club would need to shut down.  Councillors Adam Bureau and Nicole Beatty (and others) asked leading questions – there was clearly a major concern by citizens, notably harbour user groups, and some suggestion that the Town was against club activities in the Harbour.  In response, Dean Hustwick made an impassioned defence of the “audit” and his staff.  This report will try to present both sides of the conflict which generated strong emotions on both sides.

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Safety Audit Report

At the request of Teresa Behan, Deputy Director, Community Services Division, the Lifesaving Society‘s Audit Committee conducted an “audit” of the harbour which included a visit to the Harbour on February 5, 2019 although there was also a visit on Sept 19, 2018. Interviews were then held with:

  • Paul Gauthier – Town of Cobourg Manager of Attractions and Facilities
  • Shannon Murphy – Town of Cobourg Risk Manager
  • Jeremy Fowlie and Dean Cotes – Dragon Boat and Canoe Club
  • Trish Russell – Survivor Thrivers
  • Alan Clough – Cobourg Yacht Club

They also reviewed existing documentation as supplied by Teresa.


Here is a summary of their recommendations: (See below for a link to the full report).  The contentious items are in bold.

  1. Install an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) unit adjacent to the marina office.
  2. Ensure all Marina staff are standard first aid certified.
  3. Create a No Swimming bylaw for the harbour.
  4. The Town should draft a Harbour Emergency Procedures manual.

Procedures should include but are not limited to the following:

  • Safe rescue
  • Missing persons
  • Fire Drills
  • Major emergencies
  • Collisions
  • Cold Water submersion
  • Reporting procedures
  • The mandatory use of power craft in all programs as a safety vessel such as a personal watercraft, Boston whaler, or an IRB with motor.
  1. Educate users groups on the current state of the harbour.

A meeting or other communication mechanism should be used to ensure all harbour users are familiar with the current and future plans for the harbour. Items that should be communicated include but are not limited to:

  • Updates and operation of the Harbour
  • Expectations of use: contracts/lease agreements/permits for events
  • Policies and procedures new & existing
  • Formal scheduling of use of harbour
  • Emergency Manual
  1. Revise the current harbour (boat slip) agreements.
  2. Enhance craft safety inside the harbour.

Separating motor craft and self-powered craft must be done to ensure everyone’s safety e.g. Specific areas and or times of use specified in their lease agreements

  1. Ensure all user groups are using a safety boat for all events, training, and programs.
Shanna Reid and Patrick D'Almada
Shanna Reid and Patrick D’Almada

A safety boat is used to manage boating and respond to emergencies. It is important to have this on the water when organized boating activities are taking place inside and outside of the harbour and that personnel operating this craft are trained and certified in their use and response to an emergency situation.

  1. Ensure that all harbour events and club scheduled activities adhere to the Town Special Events application process.
  2. Distribute the Lifesaving Society Dragon Boat Safety Guidelines.
  3. Enhance signage in the harbour and marina area.
  4. Complete a safety equipment audit.
  5. Clearly identify the egress ladders in the harbour.
  6. Ensure the user groups mandate the compulsory use of approved PFD’s by boaters while on the water.
  7. Conduct stray electrical current testing.
  8. Designate a camp user group indoor and outdoor space.

The audit results were presented by Shanna Reid and Patrick D’Almada – photo above right.

Councillor Questions

Councillors had been contacted by user groups and asked to ask questions that illustrate their view of the audit.

  1. Adam Bureau: Based on direction from Town staff, was your contract intended to support the marina expansion?  Response: We knew about it but no.
  2. Adam Bureau: Was your intent to impede in any way the operations of any particular group, particularly the Dragon Boat and Canoe Club or the Yacht club? Response: Absolutely Not.
  3. Nicole Beatty: Were groups such as the business Green Canoe which operates paddle boats and the YMCA consulted?  Response re YMCA – the beach had been previously audited and anyway, the Lifesaving Society are experts;
  4. Nicole Beatty: Why was site visit for audit in mid-winter and not during the season?  Response: There was site visit in September.
  5. Adam Bureau: Do you believe that in any way your recommendations will prevent any group including the Cobourg Dragon Boat and Canoe Club from operating successfully?  Response: That’s a peculiar question; we are only focusing on safety.  We are asking that the Town put in place Permits and leasing agreements, knowledge of events and when they are going to happen – all these things are programmable so No.
  6. Suzanne Séguin:  Why mention expansion of the Marina if it had no effect on the report? Response: As part of document review, we were shown the potential of the expansion of the marina but it did not affect recommendations.
  7. Emily Chorley: Was a comprehensive audit of the Marina (as well as the West Harbour) also conducted?  Response: Primarily the West Harbour.
  8. Emily Chorley: How was scope defined?  Response: It was defined for us.
  9. Nicole Beatty: The document is missing the findings that led to the recommendations.  Response: An executive summary was provided and the next steps would be for staff to produce an action plan to implement the changes.

Jeremy Fowlie Presentation – Highlights

Jeremy Fowlie
Jeremy Fowlie

Jeremy is with the Cobourg Dragon Boat and Canoe Club (CDBCC) (photo above right)

  • The audit was described as independent but was not – it was directed by Town staff and the Lifesaving audit team shared documents with the Town intended only for the Audit committee.
  • The Audit team told CDBCC that their mandate was to determine how the expansion of docks into the West Harbour Area would impact the safety of CDBCC programs.
  • The Dragon Boat National organization’s Code of safety was ignored (Download here)
  • The Town admitted in 2015 that the harbour is federally regulated yet the Town plans to regulate it.
  • Camp Regulations 503/17 are quoted for camps yet do not apply since they are intended for overnight camps.
  • The requirement to schedule when user groups can use the harbour would put the CDBCC day camps out of operation – yet Dean Hustwick said on July 3, 2018 that there is more than enough room for all programs and boats even with Marina expansion.  There has never been safety concerns with our programs in the harbour in the 20 years we have operated.
  • The requirement for a motorized safety boat contradicts Ophea requirements.
  • Is it a change in Policy that a Special events application is needed for the Dragon Boat Festival United Way fundraiser?
  • Re the requirement to designate a camp user group indoor and outdoor space:  For an emergency such as a thunderstorm, CAO Peacock said on July 22, 2019 that of course the Marina building could be used.  It would not be used for programs.

In response to a question from Emily Chorley, Jeremy confirmed that scheduling would put the CDBCC out of business.

Jeremy asked that the report be referred to the Parks and Recreation Parks and Advisory committee.

Dean Hustwick Summary

  • Concerned about accusations against staff who are professional sworn civil servants … who serve the public and not special interest groups
  • Staff requested this audit as part of professional due diligence
  • There were allegations that confidential documents were shared but these are public documents
  • “As for the suggestion that we manipulated the outcome of this audit, that’s absolutely ridiculous”
  • The use of the harbour can be enhanced but that’s through proper management and scheduling – “There’s no conspiracy here”.  Not trying to reduce usage or eliminate users. Compare this to scheduling use of the Concert hall which would not drive the VOS out of business.
  • Re Marina Expansion: Auditors were not asked to consider Marina expansion (it was absolutely not on the Agenda) but some documents that happened to mention this were provided.  “It is absolutely not correct that staff are continuing to work on Marina Expansion”.
  • The reason for the focus on the West harbour and not the Marina was because “we have total care and control over the Marina”.  We have very little control or authority over the use of the West Harbour even though it is a heavily used Municipal property.  This is probably the only municipal property that we don’t have care and control over.
  • There was concern that investigations in the summer of the operations of the CDBCC were to undermine the club.  “That was absolutely not the case”.
  • There have been suggestions that the Town does not own the harbour “That’s not true”. Dean said that the Town owns the harbour and it can be regulated by Municipal bylaw. Because of this ownership, the Town has an obligation to operate it safely – the same as the CCC, Parks and Beach.
  • The Town has never given permission for Camp programs to use the Marina Building.  The space available would be corridors and bathrooms and is not an appropriate place to hold Camp programs.  Other programs booked alternative space on the day of the thunderstorm being quoted.


Emily Chorley (with an amendment by Brian Darling) then moved that the Aquatic Safety Audit report be referred to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee to get feedback from all user groups. By the first COW meeting in March 2020, staff will provide a report to Council inclusive of the feedback from all user groups. The motion carried.

Hopefully all concerns can be resolved and all West Harbour user groups will be able to continue using it.


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Steve Wilkes
4 years ago

If anyone takes the time to actually read the Safety Audit Report they will come to learn the report is deeply flawed. The purpose of an audit is to provide an objective independent examination of results. This report did not examine any specific events or incidents of the current enforce safety procedures available at the west harbour. There were no conclusions to suggest a lack of safety compliance by the stakeholders identified in the report.

The report was an assessment of the current state safety protocols, procedures and processes available to Harbour stakeholders. The Canadian Coast Guard has a station in the harbour and were not included in the process. The report contains no findings, analysis, conclusions or a set of prioritized recommendations to a future state safer harbour. The report talks about interviews and did not contain an appendix to highlight a sample of interview questions or that an interview guide was developed for each stakeholder interview. The appendix on risk makes reference to traffic in the harbour and does not provide insight to other risk factors, (weather, water temp, wave height, wave frequency) The report made reference to documentation review and did not include a list of documents on safety best practices from Dragon Boat Canada, Power Squadron, Canoe Kayak Canada. The recommendations in the report include that all stakeholders purchase a copy of the Life Saving Society Dragon Boat handbook. ($43.70, that was created in 2002) The report was created by the Lifesaving Society.

The report is clearly not a compliance or operational audit because it lacks any incident or event in which the consultants examined. If you read the report you will discover the report is in fact a poorly executed assessment because it lacks any findings, and has no conclusions, the analysis is flawed and recommendations are biased.

Our Council deserved better and their time was wasted listening to a presentation that was a first draft quality. The presentation was not a final version that council could make decisions on.

Walter Luedtke
4 years ago

So here we go again!
The old trope that Council is composed of well-meaning incompetents who are putty in the wily hands of Staff, has come to life again.
And Staff is in cahoots with the Marina and the big boat owners.
One must have a thick skin to be a civil servant in Cobourg!

4 years ago

Most competent managers, assuming that is what Town Councillors are suppose to be when not running for election, would want risk assessments of their various operations. In the course of that process it is inevitable that weaknesses will be found. The Council is obligated to protect the interest of the whole Town and weigh those risks even if it annoys special interest groups.
I am still trying to understand this preoccupation with the marina expansion as if it is some deep-state conspiracy. The reasoning was simple: the Town had absorbed most of the profits from the marina since the 1980s. There was only a tiny remaining financial reserve. (And probably zero reserve for the West Pier) Thirty plus year old docks wear out and need to be overhauled or replaced. Hitting the existing boaters with that full price tag would result in sizable departures to better, less expensive marinas. Adding more slips would spread the cost. Not rocket science.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  MCGA
4 years ago

I’m unsure of a “deep-state conspiracy” and I don’t see a mention of such in John’s excellent report. However, the majority of residents are opposed to expansion, Council vowed to not consider expansion in this term, if you look at the actual results of the Waterfront Survey it shows that residents don’t want expansion. Why was expansion mentioned yet again as part of the Safety Audit? If not the residents or Council then who wants expansion? It seems rather like the proverbial bad coin that keeps coming back.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
4 years ago

Ken, please read my second paragraph. Simple formula: marina makes money, Town spends that money rather than save some for future repairs and replacement, someone realizes this and decides to employ a strategy of more slips to mitigate the price increase that would surely come. Bad management can kill anything including a marina that dates back to the 1980s and a harbour that dates back to the 1830s. NO MONEY SAVED FOR THE EAST PIER. NO MONEY SAVED FOR THE MARINA DOCKS. WHERE WILL THE MONEY COME FROM? And, do you think the resident taxpayers are going to want to pay for any of this? You might study California’s state tax law history to understand how badly this can turn out.
Maybe the Town wants to be Port Hope. Look at what their harbour has become.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  MCGA
4 years ago

MCGA, I agree that the residents don’t want to pay for repairs. Boaters don’t want to pay additional fees to fund repairs. Most residents won’t tolerate an expanded marina plus there is no money for expansion plus there is no room for boat storage to accommodate an expanded harbour. What do you suggest?

Reply to  Ken Strauss
4 years ago

How about having an honest and open conversation about what the Town taxpayers really want and how much the pieces will cost? Start with the Council explicitly stating what has been saved. Then show the options: watch it deteriorate, while boaters leave the marina (an organizational death spiral) until the pier and docks drop into the lake; or try patching it forever to mitigate the current cost impact; or come up with a reasonable revitalization plan which will require leadership and compromise on ALL sides. If this does not happen the taxpayers can expect the harbour to begin to resemble Port Hope. A sad empty place some of us refer to as just Hope, as the port is gone, or simply Hopeless.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  MCGA
4 years ago

MCGA, perhaps there is a plan. Consider another item on Monday’s agenda: repayment of the sham $7M loan between LUI and Cobourg. A possible plan is mentioned by Mr. Gutteridge in the Council video (https://youtu.be/Cz-OZ8QCo6o?t=3663). Repaying the $7M “loan” would provide ample funds to refurbish the aging docks and repair the east pier without having to approve higher taxes. Cobourg electricity users would get to foot the bill with little possibility to object. Everybody wins except Cobourg’s residents!

Reply to  Ken Strauss
4 years ago

I have never studied Holdco, LUI, ETC. and therefore will not opine on the loan. That said, it is worth recognizing that the majority of marina boaters are Cobourg residents and, as such, likely LUI electricity users so they will pay as well. Also, for the period from marina inception until 2009, all marina profits were absorbed by the Town thus benefitting ALL the Cobourg residents but leaving nothing in the reserve coffers for dock rehabilitation or replacement.It seems to me that the good news is that the everything has stayed within the Town. The bad news is that the Town now seems disinclined to see the marina as an owned asset and return the favor by properly funding repair and replacement.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  MCGA
4 years ago

There is no good answer nor even semi-bad ones. I’ve never seen definitive numbers but I suspect that the Cobourg boaters are only a few hundred families out of the 10000 or so who live in Cobourg — perhaps 5% of the total families as a generous guesstimate. If you consider that many of Cobourg’s residents are families having trouble putting food on the table or are retirees on a fixed income it is will be a significant challenge to convince the non-boater 95% to fund what is commonly perceived as a hobby for the wealthy.

Reply to  Ken Strauss
4 years ago

All true Ken. Collectively we decide what kind of Town we want to be and how we want to look. But, if we abandon our history we may never get it back. Consider what it took to recover Victoria Hall. There are very few places like Our Harbour anywhere else on Lake Ontario. We should not be HOPELESS.

Ken Strauss
Reply to  Ken Strauss
4 years ago

It is interesting that you mention that.

Reply to  MCGA
4 years ago

Maybe you could leave Port Hope out of it and focus on Cobourg’s problems. Port Hope’s issues are specific to the town and its history with Eldorado/Cameco and low level radioactive waste. At least there is a funded plan of action to restore the centre pier and harbor area. I understand the longstanding rivalry between the 2 towns but am not sure how the name-calling serves anybody. I own property (and pay taxes) in both towns.

Reply to  Brian
4 years ago

Brian, It is worth offering a reasonable comparative including a descriptor. I could employ Trent Port Marina on the opposite side of the spectrum because as a community owned marina that is both an outstanding facility and well priced. Sorry about your Port Hope investment and its taxes but my commentary and quip has nothing to do with rivalry and everything to do with what the place looks like and the fact that the Town has closed its port.. As an aside, just how many years have they been extracting that radioactive waste? Does that qualify as Hopeful?

Reply to  MCGA
4 years ago

I see there is no end to the clever “quips” you can make. Is this how you make Cobourg great again?

Reply to  Brian
4 years ago

Thank you for finding them clever. I have always believed that there is genuine benefit to mixing humor with the very serious, so in that regard it is fair to say there will likely be no end to the quips. That said, perhaps you should try it…assuming your so equipped.

Old Sailor
4 years ago

Having an Aquatic Safety Audit Report prepared is not a bad idea from a town governance point of view. Step two might include determining which of all the identified risks can be tolerated or mitigated in other ways.

Wondering how many other active Lake Ontario harbours are complying with the full extent of their Aquatic Safety reports. And how many have even had such a report prepared.