Boat Safety / June 14, 2022

The impact of water levels on recreational boating

Impact of water levels

All across Canada we have seen varied weather patterns in 2022. From higher than normal snow pack, higher precipitation and seasonally cool or hot weather. The other sleeping giant is the rise of sea levels. Each of these phenomenon can lead to hazards such as too low, too high water levels and marine debris. This impact on water levels for recreational boating creates the need for extra safety measures when navigating inland waterways and the open ocean.

On June 9 Parks Canada issued a Trent-Severn waterway public safety notice regarding the high water on Severn, Trent and Otonabee Rivers in Ontario.

Water levels on the rise

Water levels in the five Great lakes are climbing to a significant degree, according to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, with Lake Ontario expected to rise the most (17 inches), Lake Superior 12 inches, Lake Huron and Michigan 8 inches and Lake Erie, always the shallowest of the five bodies of water, to rise five inches. After a number of years where water levels in the Great Lakes have been alarmingly low, ongoing heavy rains, melting snow and heavy winds have an impact on the water levels for recreational boating.

In BC, numerous atmospheric events have led to wide spread flooding. In June alone, there have been 7 flood watch and warnings issued by the BC River Forecast Center.

On June 14, 2022 the City of Calgary issued a local State of Emergency due to 150 mm of rain expected to fall in a short period of time. Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Sue Henry, restricted boating along the Bow and Elbow rivers. repeated the warning that a boating advisory is in place along the Bow and Elbow rivers, restricting boating from those tributaries.

In Quebec, water levels in certain areas of the Saint Lawrence River went down to a record low in the summer of 2021, with the least amount of rain received particularly in the month of May for Montreal, having a mere 10mm as appose to the normal of 84mm. Boaters in the areas around the Saint Pierre and Deux-Montagnes Lakes, as well as Repentigny, have reported many sinking and accidents, and launching boats was impossible in certain Marinas.

According to “Sea level rise will create a profound shift in coastal flooding over the next 30 years by causing tide and storm surge heights to increase and reach further inland.” This will have a profound impact on how, when and where we boat and where boats can be moored and stored at existing marinas.

Boaters beware

While the issues around flooding are clear for homeowners, higher-than-usual water levels also present a number of dangers for boaters, making boating insurance more critical than ever. In recent years, Parks Canada delayed the season opening as many boat ramps and docks are submerged, and a long list of Ontario yacht and sailing clubs are closed until levels subside. Boaters are being warned to keep an eye posted for large debris such as tree limbs, picnic benches, and tires, all resulting from inland flooding.

Due to the atmospheric river event, large amounts of debris have collected in areas along several B.C. rivers and streams. The Province is assessing waterway debris and, where a public safety threat is identified, is engaging with Indigenous Nations, local authorities and private citizens on a plan for removal.

Other concerns aren’t necessarily obvious or apparent to the naked eye. High water levels can cause sandbars to shift, and can also cover up obstacles on the shore that used to be visible – these issues increase your chances of running aground, so anyone on a boat is warned to travel slowly. Submerged docks with electrical service also put swimmers in danger, so staying out of the water until levels return to normal is important. With so many additional hazards with high water levels, make sure your boat insurance is up-to-date.

Types of debris

There are two types of debris that can impede boaters as well as create unseen hazards on and under the water:


  • Dislodged docks
  • Abandoned boats
  • Boat houses
  • Vehicle parts
  • Bridge components
  • Shipping containers /contents
  • Sheds
  • Miscellaneous structures


  • Large trees
  • Log jams
  • Sediment

Safe boating after storms or other weather events

First and foremost, slow down and be aware of floating debris. Rising and over flowing rivers, carry hazards such as logs or other debris from the shoreline. Colliding with such debris could capsize your boat, create holes in the hull causing or damage your propulsion or rudder.

River cruising can have various hazards depending where in Canada you are boating. For rivers that have variances due to tides changes, low tides can bring extra hazards such a sand bars, shoals, submerged rocks, floating debris and strong tides and currents.

Did you know?

According to the US Boat Foundation, most boaters tend to operate their vessels in the middle of the waterway, the waters are actually deeper on the outside of river bends. They recommend to stay as near to the outside of the channel as you can in order to keep in the deeper water, and you will also be able to see oncoming traffic earlier – especially commercial traffic.

Ocean debris

After storms, atmospheric events, flooding, , melting snow pack can wash debris into the ocean and coastal waterways all at once. In addition to natural hazards such as lost log booms, hazards include trash, abandoned vessels, lost shipping containers and contents, and derelict fishing gear.

Better boating this summer

The upside? In 2013, water levels in the Great Lakes hit their lowest point since Canada and the U.S. started tracking them one hundred years earlier. Low water levels can be devastating for the lakes’ ecosystems, as well as industries such as hydroelectricity, tourism and commercial shipping. Despite the challenges presented to recreational boaters in the spring, higher water levels are a welcome turn-around from a couple of years ago, and recreational boaters on the Great Lakes can look forward to a great summer on the water.

Every boater should be aware of water levels. And a good resource for boaters in Ontario is the US Army Corps Great Lakes Weekly Forecasts. In other areas of Canada look to your local governments for information on tides, weather and debris.

rising water levels, marine debris

For more information about the Trent-Severn Waterway, visit, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter @TrentSevernNHS. For the most current boater specific information, please follow on Twitter: @TSWBoaterInfo, @VNTSInfoNav.

Global News: Calgary Heavy Rainfall Expected 

Alberta Flood Information

NOAA Marine Debris Program

Intact Centre of Climate Adaption: Coastal Protection  Rising sea levels raise concern on Canada’s coasts

National Ocean Service:  Ten things to know about marine debris 

Government of Canada:  2022 begins with high water levels on Lakes Michigan/Huron, Erie, and Ontario
BC Rivers Forecast Center 
World Economic Forum:  8 Climate change records smashed in 2021 

Conseils et chroniques:  Securite sur leau les niveaux deau une nouvelle realite

Safe Harbour: Drowning prevention when boating


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