Every few
months the airwaves are filled with the chilling message of one or more persons
in difficulty or lost at sea.  Inevitably
and with a sense of foreboding, the public is informed of the dispatch of ‘first
responders’, the members of the Search and Rescue (SAR). 

This article
is not about the Burton Winters tragedy, though the mere mention, of his name,
evokes a tiring sadness over the loss of one so young. Nor is it about the loss
of the Ryan’s Commander or even the role, responsibility and response time
demanded, by a sympathetic public, of SAR.

This article
is about the role of each individual who goes out on the sea.  It is about personal responsibility. 

Some people
are fond of ‘calling out’ Governments, or the SAR effort, when there is even a
hint that a rescue does not begin instantly. Of course, Governments should be
made justify slow response time or poor logistics.  But, strangely, that is where public debate ends.  This narrative needs to change!

fishers and pleasure boaters head out on the ocean, without taking with them, the
basic tools of survival, seamanship skills or common sense. 

When an incident
occurs, it disappears from media focus, for reasons that are understandable;
the families need privacy and time to recover or to grieve. But, over the
years, such deference has done little to change a terribly embedded
sub-standard culture of marine safety. 
The media tactfully avoids such a discussion, too; it is a reporting
mechanism.  Instruction is not its

At this very
moment, one when we are not preoccupied with an immediate tragedy, (though it
has not been that way for many days), we might well ask if SAR, the various spokespersons
including police, really do anyone any favours by keeping quiet on issues of
personal responsibility.  Are most of our
marine ‘incidents’ really accidents?

What are the
issues? There are a plethora of them, but some are fundamental:  was a Trip Plan, recording destination and the estimated
time of return, left with a family member or other trusted person? Was the
Operator trained to handle the boat of which he is in command, whether a kayak
or a much larger vessel? Was he capable of performing in worse conditions than he
expected? Did he possess basic navigation and locator equipment; a compass, VHF
radio, a locator beacon, flares, reflectors and other such readily available
tools?  Did the boat carry an adequate number
of PDFs? Was he/party wearing appropriate clothing and other basic tools of a
survival kit? Did he check weather forecasts? Was he familiar with the
practices of good seamanship?

The north
Atlantic is a place to be feared as much as respected, whether we go out on the
sea for its economic bounty or just for sheer pleasure.  The sea demands respect, else it will exact

Yet, all one
needs to do is lurk at the entrance to Quidi Vidi, during the food fishery, to
get a first-hand view of just how few understand that the sea is relentlessly
unforgiving and that most ‘landlubbers’ are fundamentally unprepared.

‘Rinky dink’
boats are often a first clue as to the skills of the ‘boatsmen’, but expensive ones
are no guarantee of an Operators’ expertise.

All too often
a ‘day on the bay’ is really just amateur hour. 
The only surprise is that the sea does not make a greater claim; but
then, the fact that the inshore boat fishery is all but in the past, is likely
the chief reason. 

A grim
realty needs facing:  while it is not the
role of SAR to ‘call out’ a delinquent party, someone, in authority, ought to.  When the evidence is overwhelming, following
an incident of rescue, that authority, following a SAR Report, ought to just
call things, as they see them; discretion has simply not worked.  As insensitive as it may seem, it will never
be as hurtful as the pain of a waiting family or that of a tired search party.

If the
incident involves a youth, parental responsibility should be reviewed. 

there are other ways; if so, they should be brought to the fore.

It is,
admittedly, a difficult subject.  But lives
hinge on our ability to discuss this problem aloud, and not just in the coffee
shops. And, make no mistake about it, it is a big problem. 

is a skillset, a vital ability to make intelligent and informed decisions.  It is not intuitive, at least for most. Too
many ignore the fundamentals, especially the need to train.  

This is an
age of cheap, mobile, practically miniaturized technology; VHF radio to contact
SAR or a nearby vessel, GPS for navigation, EPURB or SPOT with which to send
out an emergency locator beacon; a PFD, unless you are foolish enough to think
that your world class swimming skills really matter, after a mere few minutes
of cold water immersion.  Then there is
the matter of clothes, appropriate underwear, a dry suit or a survival suit.  

If one can
afford a boat, (which will deliver him into trouble), for a few
hundred dollars more, he can invest in these essential items (which, with solid
training, may keep him out of trouble). 

And, because
everyone is now so internet capable, there are at least four different weather
forecasts to which a boater has access, essential confirmatory information
before leaving home.

There is a
lot an individual boater can do to keep tragedy at bay. 

But, if a
person’s own stupidity wastes the resources of SAR, places other people at risk
and causes his family untold grief, someone should call him out. 

This long
weekend, before you venture out, think personal responsibility.  Have you done everything possible to save
your own skin as well as those for whom you are responsible?
Des Sullivan
Des Sullivan
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Uncle Gnarley is hosted by Des Sullivan, of St. John's. He is a businessman engaged over three decades in real estate management and development companies and in retail. He is currently a Director of Dorset Investments Limited and Donovan Holdings Limited. During his early career he served as Executive Assistant to Premier's Frank D. Moores (1975-1979) and Brian Peckford (1979-1985). He also served as a Part-Time Board Member on the Canada-Newfoundland Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB). Uncle Gnarley appears on the masthead representing serious and unambiguous positions on NL politics and public policy. Uncle Gnarley is a fiscal conservative possessing distinctly liberal values and a non-partisan persusasion. Those values and opinions underlie this writer's views on NL's politics, economy and society. Uncle Gnarley publishes Monday mornings and more often when events warrant.


Bill left public life shortly after the signing of the Atlantic Accord and became a member of the Court of Appeal until his retirement in 2003. During his time on the court he was involved in a number of successful appeals which overturned wrongful convictions, for which he was recognized by Innocence Canada. Bill had a special place in his heart for the underdog.

Churchill Falls Explainer (Coles Notes version)

If CFLCo is required to maximize its profit, then CFLCo should sell its electricity to the highest bidder(s) on the most advantageous terms available.


This is the most important set of negotiations we have engaged in since the Atlantic Accord and Hibernia. Despite being a small jurisdiction we proved to be smart and nimble enough to negotiate good deals on both. They have stood the test of time and have resulted in billions of dollars in royalties and created an industry which represents over a quarter of our economy. Will we prove to be smart and nimble enough to do the same with the Upper Churchill?