Originally Published by Vancouver Sun, June 10, 2015

By Larry Pynn

METRO VANCOUVER – Two back-to-back jet boat accidents — one that claimed the life of a well-known fly fishing expert — are prompting calls for a ban on power vessels 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, said in an interview 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.”

Davison’s employee, Ron Hjorth, 64, drowned Monday morning when a jet boat flipped over about 12 kilometres north of Pitt Lake. 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 favourite rivers. He’s fished up there a fair bit and knows the area.”

Hjorth had no wife or children, and the jet boat was not his.

Alex Te Brinke, owner of Venture River Boats in Chilliwack, said he’d support the creation of jet boat/swift-water rescue courses to better prepare boaters for running the river. He also recommends 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.”

New jet boats range in price from approximately $25,000 for a five-metre model to $80,000 for a seven-metre-plus model, he added.

Jillian Glover of Transport Canada said that under the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations, local authorities can apply to the federal government to impose restrictions in specified Canadian waters.

Coquitlam RCMP Cpl. Jamie Chung said the jet boat three men and a woman left Grant Narrows at the south end of Pitt Lake for a fishing trip on Monday at about 7:30 a.m. They experienced mechanical trouble on the upper Pitt River at about 9 a.m., the six-metre boat drifted downstream without power, hit a log, took on water and sank.

On Sunday, two other jet boaters also flipped their vessel, about six kilometres upstream of the latest accident, and were lucky to survive a swim in the cold, swift-flowing waters.

Unlike conventional boats with propellers exposed to the elements, a jet boat sucks water into an impeller unit, which expels it at high speed to push the boat along.

Jet boats are especially vulnerable when travelling downstream because they need to maintain their speed for steering. An engine malfunction or getting gravel sucked into the jet pump can leave boaters at risk of drifting downstream and winding up in a log jam 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.

Photo courtesy of Dan Gerak, Vancouver Sun