Inquest details RCMP boat’s sordid past

Both Const. Michael Potvin and Cpl. Brent Chapman knew that the boat at the Mayo detachment had a history of problems when they took it out on the Stewart River on July 2010, but they went out nonetheless.

Both Const. Michael Potvin and Cpl. Brent Chapman knew that the boat at the Mayo detachment had a history of problems when they took it out on the Stewart River on July 13, 2010, but they went out nonetheless.

The boat would capsize that day. Chapman hung on to the boat and survived, but Potvin drowned trying to swim for shore.

The day before the accident, Chapman was told that the boat “had almost killed two people” the last time it had been taken out in October; but that was only part of the story.

The boat, which was custom-built for the RCMP in 1985, was first put into service in Old Crow. That same year the boat sunk on the Porcupine River while carrying a heavy load of moose meat.

At the time it was built, there was no requirement to have a capacity plate – a metal stamp that displays the maximum weight the boat can carry, the number of people and the recommended size of the motor.

After it sunk, the boat was hauled up, dried out, and in 1987 it was sent to the RCMP detachment in Carmacks.

Over the years there were a myriad of modifications made to the boat.

Neither Chapman nor Potvin knew much about the boat’s past.

The administrative file that detailed its history contained very little information.

At the time of the accident, though it was required, the Yukon RCMP didn’t have a basic water transport co-ordinator to keep track of boat history and maintenance records.

Investigators had to reconstruct the boat’s history by examining accounting records and receipts from mechanics.

Sgt. Mark London, the lead investigator into Potvin’s death, told the inquest that he was never even able to find the actual report into the 1985 sinking, only a reference to it in another document.

After Potvin’s death the boat was recovered and taken from Mayo to Vancouver where it was examined by navel architect Alex Brydon.

“The weight of the motor was fundamental to the whole accident,” Brydon told the inquest.

At the time of the accident the boat had two motors, a 150 hp main motor that weighed 474 pounds as well as an auxiliary motor that weighed 115 pounds.

It was a 500 per cent increase in weight from the 118 pound, 50 hp motor that originally came with the boat.

Brydon calculated that the maximum weight the boat could carry was 603 kg, with a maximum capacity of four people, and a maximum engine size of 70 hp.

However, that was only the case if the motor well was intact; it wasn’t.

Someone at some point had also cut down both the transom (the back wall of the boat) as well as the motor well, and had also drilled holes into the motor well itself, holes that allowed water to flow onto the deck of the boat.

A motor well is supposed to take in water that spills over the transom and stop it from reaching the deck.

Brydon told the inquest that he’d never seen fuel lines or wires running through the side of a motor well before.

“Knowing that motor well isn’t water tight, I get nervous,” he said.

The fact that the bilge pump – which pumps water off the deck – wasn’t working was also a significant factor in the accident, said Brydon.

When investigators took the pump apart, they found it full of mud. They cleaned it out, hot-wired it to a battery and it worked, but when they hooked it up to the boat’s electrical system, it shorted out.

The boats entire electrical system was improperly installed, said Brydon.

“The wiring was not up to standard,” he said. “Not even close.”

There was rust on the fuse panel, no ground installed and the wiring was not properly secured.

The wire that ran to both the navigation lights and the bilge pump had fallen behind one of the fuel tanks. Because the fuel tanks were also improperly installed, they were able to move around and rub the insulation of the wire, causing a short.

The design of the boat was also a factor.

When boats get swamped with water they are expected to sink down but retain their stability.

While boats aren’t supposed to capsize when they take on water, unfortunately many do, said Brydon.

The Mayo boat had two sealed air compartments to help maintain buoyancy.

Because of the position of those compartments the boat had a tendency to capsize when swamped, said Brydon.

In tests done after the accident the boat started to flip before it was even half filled with water.

There was also a blockage in the fuel filter that caused the motor to stall.

“Had (the blockage) not been there, I doubt we’d be here today,” Brydon told the inquest.

Not only was the fuel filter too small for the motor, but when investigators pulled it apart they found a small piece of wood was restricting the flow of fuel.

That piece of wood has always bothered Brydon.

It couldn’t have come from the fuel tank because the fuel line was too kinked to let it by, he said.

The only explanation he could think of is that someone had tried to clean out the fuel filter with a stick.

“It’s the only thing that makes sense, and it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

The blockage allowed enough fuel to get the engine started, but not enough to keep it going with the throttle up.

When the motor stalled abruptly, the wake would spill over into the motor well, and because of the holes that had been drilled in it, that water would flow onto the deck.

Chapman testified that the main motor stalled four times before he went back to try to run the auxiliary motor.

By the time Chapman went aft, the accident had already happened, said Brydon.

He estimated that there could have been as much as 105 litres in the boat before anyone noticed.

Contact Josh Kerr at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A proposed Official Community Plan amendment would designate a 56.3-hectare piece of land in Whistle Bend currently designated as green space, as urban residential use. Whitehorse city council will vote on the second reading of the Official Community Plan amendment on Dec. 7. (Courtesy City of Whitehorse)
Future area of Whistle Bend considered by council

Members set to vote on second reading for OCP change

The City of Whitehorse’s projected deficit could be $100,000 more than originally predicted earlier this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City deficit could be just over $640,000 this year

Third quarter financial reports presented to council

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Oct. 30. Masks became mandatory in the Yukon for anyone five years old and older as of Dec. 1 while in public spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
As mask law comes into effect, premier says $500 fines will be last resort

The territory currently has 17 active cases of COVID-19

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, during a press conference on April 1.
Government rejects ATAC mining road proposal north of Keno City

Concerns from the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun were cited as the main reason for the decision


Wyatt’s World for Dec. 2, 2020

The new Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation council elected Dec. 1. (Submitted)
Little Salmon Carmacks elects new chief, council

Nicole Tom elected chief of Little Salmon Carcmacks First Nation

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Most Read