More than a dozen paddle boarders had to be rescued from under the Lions Gate Bridge Monday afternoon after they drifted off course into a deadly shipping lane.
The group of 30 had set out from Jericho Beach and planned on making the 6.5-kilometre paddle to Ambleside Beach.
Around 3 p.m., however, they ran into trouble when high winds and a flood tide rushing into the First Narrows caught them and dragged them in. A tug boat crew saw them struggling in the waves and called for help.
“Unfortunately, this group thought there was safety in numbers, and they greatly underestimated the conditions,” said Sgt. Steve Addison in a release from the Vancouver Police Department. “Their lack of experience, combined with wind, tides, and waves created by heavy marine traffic, pushed the paddle boarders into a treacherous situation.”
The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and VPD marine unit, along with the Canadian Coast Guard, Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue’s North Vancouver unit, were all tasked with assisting 17 of the wayward paddlers out of the water. The remaining 13 managed to make it to the North Shore.
Under the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority’s regulations, fishing, sailing, rowing, paddling and jet-skiing are not allowed within a cone-shaped area extending from Lions Gate Bridge west to the yellow cautionary buoy off Ambleside and almost as far south as Siwash Rock off Stanley Park. There’s a good reason for that, said Dan Wright, coxswain for the RCM-SAR.
“Once you get under there, you have currents and back eddies. You get pulled. You can't paddle against that. It’s three, four knots. It’s dangerous. It’s scary,” he said. “Once you get in that, it’s like being in a toilet bowl. You can’t get out.”
Following the incident, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority released a statement, stressing the importance of keeping the shipping lane clear of small vessel traffic. About 2,000 commercial ships pass under Lions Gate Bridge every year.
“Fortunately, through the quick response and co-operation of partner agencies, the paddle boarders who had been struggling against the current to cross the channel were brought to safety, but this is a good reminder for all recreational boaters to review and follow safe boating practices set out in the port authority’s Port Information Guide,” it read.