Boat Safety / June 29, 2017

Celebrate Canada Day by Staying Safe On Ontario Lakes

Canada is turning 150! July 1, 2017 will be a significant milestone for our country, and many Ontarians will be celebrating Canada’s birthday by boating with family and friends so they can enjoy the hot, sunny weather and fun festivities. Before you do so, take care of some of the less glamorous but necessary steps: make sure you have up-to-date boaters insurance, and take the time to review these basic boating regulations and laws, designed to keep everyone healthy and safe as we celebrate Canada’s 150 years as a nation. Boating safety certainly has improved. In 1867, there were 931 disasters reported during a year of navigation on the lakes, and 211 lives lost.

Educate yourself – it’s the law

Anyone operating a recreational boat with a motor in Canadian waters needs to have their Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC). Not only do you have to have successfully completed the course, you need to have the card on you when you are at the helm of a boat. There is no age restriction to taking your PCOC, and the card is national – meaning it is required and valid across the country – and permanent as it never expires. You can also use this card when in U.S. waters, and Americans can use theirs when in Canada.

Once you have passed an online or in-person boating safety course that has been approved by Transport Canada, you can then print a temporary card until your permanent version arrives in the mail. You will need to keep it in your wallet or on your boat so that you can produce it when asked – it’s a $250 fine if you don’t have it with you. If you are renting a boat, you don’t need to have your PCOC, but you do need to complete a safety checklist that is good only for that specific rental period.

Age restrictions

While there is no age restriction for taking the PCOC course, there are age restrictions for operating a boat with a motor.

  • Under 12: Anyone under 12 years old and unsupervised can only drive a boat with a motor of 10 hp (7.5 kW) or under.
  • Over 12 years old but under 16 years of age: If unsupervised, this age group may only operate a boat with a motor of 40 hp (30 kW) and under.
  • 16 and over: Anyone this age and over can operate any pleasure craft without supervision.

Safety First while boating

You are required to have specific safety equipment on your vessel, according to its size (measured from stern to bow) and horsepower. All of the safety equipment for your vessel needs to be well-maintained and working properly, and close at hand in case of emergency. You can be charged $200 for every piece of missing or broken equipment, so review the list carefully.

The most critical piece of safety equipment on a boat is a life jacket. You are required to have a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD) for every person on the boat, one that fits them properly. The Canadian Red Cross estimates that of the 180 Canadians (on average) who die every year in boating incidents, approximately 90% of them were either not wearing a lifejacket, or it did not fit them properly. In Ontario, the Red Cross operates a program in many communities that loans, free of charge, high quality PFDs to people of all ages on a short term basis.

Boating and alcohol don’t mix

Celebrating on the water often goes hand in hand with a glass of champagne, or a cold beer on a hot day, but driving a boat is no different from driving a car. You could be charged with impaired boating. You are not allowed to have open alcohol in a boat – it must be in a sealed package, and packed away. In Ontario, you aren’t even allowed to transport alcohol unless your boat is considered your home. This means that your boat has:

  • permanent sleeping facilities
  • permanent cooking facilities
  • a permanent toilet
  • been anchored or secured alongside a dock

Under Ontario Bill 209, boaters who have had too much to drink will be treated in the same way as they would as the driver of a car: boaters are subject to on-the-spot breathalyzers, and if found to be impaired will be fined and/or lose their license, or be convicted of impaired driving just as they would on the road.

It’s time to celebrate!

Take care to make sure you have all your safety precautions in place, and then hit the water to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday! Whether you plan on exploring the many waterways and lakes in Ontario, or heading up to the cottage, or enjoying the local water festivities, have fun celebrating our great country with family and friends.


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