Boat Safety / May 25, 2020

Top 10 Safety Practices to Avoid Injury and Death While Boating

Boating season is upon us and now is the time to do a thorough safety inspection of your boat. A skippers primary responsibility is the safety of the vessel, crew and passengers. Take the time to review mandatory and recommended safety equipment for pleasure crafts in Canada and ensure you boat and passengers are equipped and knowledgeable about what to do in an emergency.

Safety Requirements for Pleasure Craft

Click to enlarge: Safety Requirements for Pleasure Craft

Facts regarding boat accidents

Studies done by the Red Cross and the United States Coast Guard  indicate the most common risk factor of recreational boating is drowning. Where cause of death is known, 80% of fatal boating accidents is by drowning and 83% were not wearing a life-jacket or personal flotation device. Boating accidents are on the rise.

  • Alcohol use is the leading known contributing factor in fatal boating accidents;
  • Where instruction was known, 77% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction.
  • Operator inattention, operator inexperience, improper lookout, excessive speed, and machinery failure rank as the top five primary contributing factors in accidents.
  • Where data was known, the most common vessel types involved in reported accidents were open motorboats (47%), personal watercraft (18%), and cabin motorboats (15%).

Top 10 practices for boat safety

1. Nationally-approved boating safety education

Facts show that safety outcomes are better when boaters have gone through a nationally approved boating safety course. In Canada boaters can take an online course to obtain a Personal Craft Operator Card, but there is not better way to learn about boat safety and survival then by taking an in-depth course that provides real time practice. The insurance team at Harbour recommends that all new recreational boaters take a minimum two day course for boat safety. 

2. Required Safety Equipment

Both sailboats and powerboats require an extensive list of safety equipment. It should go without saying that none of these items should be overlooked when preparing your vessel for launch. The safety equipment quantities and specifications required are determined by the length of the vessel.

Requirements for Sailboats and Powerboats up to 6m in length

Personal Lifesaving Appliances:

  • One life jacket or PFD for each person on board
  • One buoyant heaving line at least 15 metres (49ʹ3ʺ) long
  • One re-boarding device if the free-board distance is over 0.5 metres (1ʹ8ʺ)

Vessel Safety Equipment:

  • One manual propelling device or one anchor with at least 15 metres (49ʹ3ʺ) of cable, rope, or chain
  • One bailer or manual bilge pump

Fire-Fighting Equipment: One 5B:C fire extinguisher if the pleasure craft has:

  • An inboard engine or…
  • A fixed fuel tank or…
  • A fuel-burning oven, heater, or refrigerator

Visual Signals for Pleasure Craft With a Motor: 

  • One watertight flashlight or three type A, B, or C flares (flares not required if the pleasure craft meets one of the exemptions listed in the Small Vessel Regulations, Part 2, #213–Visual Signals)

Navigation Equipment:

  • One sound-signalling device or appliance
  • Navigation lights if the pleasure craft is operated between sunset and sunrise or during periods of restricted visibility
  • One magnetic compass; not required if the pleasure craft:
  • Is 8 metres (26ʹ3ʺ) or less in length and…
  • Is operated within sight of navigation marks.
  • One radar reflector unless the pleasure craft meets one of the exemptions listed in the Collision Regulations, Schedule 1, Rule 40 (Radar Reflectors)

Requirements for Sailboats and Powerboats over 6m and up to 9m 

All items listed above, plus the following additions and/or adjusted quantities/specifications:

  • Six type A, B, or C flares unless the pleasure craft meets one of the exemptions listed in the Small Vessel Regulations, Part 2, #213–Visual Signals

Requirements for Sailboats and Powerboats over 9m and up to 12m in length  

All of the items listed above, plus the following additions and/or adjusted quantities/specifications:

  • One anchor with at least 30 metres (98ʹ5ʺ) of cable, rope, or chain
  • One manual bilge pump or a non-manual bilge pump and water level detection system
  • One 10B:C fire extinguisher if the pleasure craft has a motor
  • One 10B:C fire extinguisher if the pleasure craft has a fuel-burning oven, heater, or refrigerator
  • Twelve type A, B, C, or D flares (no more than six type D) unless the pleasure craft meets -one of the exemptions listed in the Small Vessel Regulations, Part 2, #213–Visual Signals
  • One magnetic compass

Requirements for Sailboats and Powerboats over 12m and up to 24m  in length  

All items listed above, plus the following additions and or adjusted quantities/ specifications:

  • One lifebuoy that is equipped with a self-igniting light or attached to a buoyant heaving line at least 15 metres (49ʹ3ʺ) long
  • One anchor with at least 50 metres (164ʹ1ʺ) of cable, rope, or chain
  • A non-manual bilge pump and water level detection system
  • One 10B:C fire extinguisher at each entrance to any area where a fuel-burning oven, heater, or refrigerator, any sleeping area and the machinery space
  • One axe
  • Two fire buckets with a capacity of at least 10 litres each
  • One sound-signalling appliance as specified in the Collision Regulations, Schedule 1, Rule 33 (Equipment for Sound Signals–Canadian Modification)
  • One magnetic compass as specified in the Navigation Safety Regulations

3. Navigation Rules and Navigation Aids

All pleasure craft operators must accept and be accountable for the following three responsibilities.

A) Practice good seamanship. Always operate in a safe manner, at a safe distance and avoid endangering the safety of persons involved in any activity in any waters. Take all necessary action to avoid a collision, taking into account the weather, vessel traffic, and limits of other vessels. Such action should be taken in time to avoid a collision and at a safe distance from other vessels.

B) Keep a proper lookout. The Collision Regulations require every operator to keep a proper lookout, using both sight and hearing, at all times. Watch and listen for other vessels, radio communications, navigational hazards, and others involved in water activities to be aware of the situation and the risk of collision. Failing to keep a sharp lookout is the most common cause of collisions.

C) Maintain a safe speed. Safe speed is the speed that ensures you will have ample time to avoid a collision and can stop within an appropriate distance. According to the Collision Regulations, safe speed will vary depending on conditions such as wind, water conditions, currents, navigational hazards, visibility, surrounding vessels and traffic density, distance from shore, and boat maneuverability. Always reduce speed and navigate with extreme caution at night and when visibility is restricted.

These responsibilities are the cornerstone for the safe operation of a pleasure craft and for obeying the rules for encountering other vesselsnight navigation and the rules for special circumstances like reduced visibilitynarrow channels, and navigating around cruise ships and other large vessels.

Aids to Navigation   

The Canadian Aids to Navigation System consists of a series of different coloured buoys used for controlling vessel traffic on the water, including marking channels to and from open water, marking hazards and restricted areas, and providing information like distances, available services, anchoring and mooring. Boaters need to have a clear understanding of the different types of buoys in order to safely navigate their vessel to and from open water and everything between. The Boat Canada Course provides an informative video, shot on the water, explaining the basics on lateral buoys and special purpose buoys (markers). Click here to view the video.

Boaters, take note; it is illegal to moor a pleasure craft to a signal, buoy or any other navigational aid. It is also illegal to alter, remove or conceal any navigational aid.

4. Routine checks of safety equipment

A) Emergency Flares  

Federal regulations require that your flares be no older than four years after the date of manufacture, a date usually printed on the side of the device. Check with your local fire or police department on how to properly dispose of expired flares. Always remember, it’s illegal to test or discharge a flare in non-emergency situations.

B) Fire Extinguishers  

Portable fire extinguishers require annual inspections conducted by an approved professional inspector and must be tagged with a current expiration date by the start of boating season. Professional fire extinguisher inspection companies offer drop- off service for portable equipment, as well as fire safety training and instruction on how to perform your own monthly inspections. Fire extinguishers require regular maintenance and may need recharging, especially after use.

C) Life Vests  

Life vests can be personally tested to ensure they are functioning properly. Buoyancy can be tested by standing in waist deep water and then bending to your knees to see how well you float. Keep all components (zippers, straps, buckles) of the life vest clean and test them regularly: tug on the straps to ensure there is no wear on the seams and also open/close zippers to ensure proper function. Always store your life vests in a dry, ventilated and easily accessible place.  Life vests must be labeled and approved by Transport Canada, Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, or any combination of the three. Transport Canada’s website provides detailed information on choosing the correct life vests for adults and children, plus many other tips. Transport Canada: Life Vests

D) Bilge Pumps, Bailers, paddles and ropes  

Visually inspect bailers, paddles and ropes to ensure they are in good condition and good working order. Regularly test your bilge pump and float switch.

5. Make sure tenders complies with regulations

If your carry or tow a tender or a dinghy, they will require a pleasure craft license as well. Tenders with motors over ten horsepower need to be licensed to comply with Transport Canada safety regulations. Copies of the tender’s license must be kept on board.

6. Ensure your boat has the correct anchor and you understand the basics of anchoring

There are several factors beyond boat size that determine which type of anchor is right. The type of floor, whether it be mud, grass, sand, rock or coral, or even the wind conditions and sea state will also play a role in the right anchor selection. Make sure you understand the ratio of swing based on your anchor and boat length. This video gives a good explanation of how to calculate the swing radius. 

7. Tides and currents and where to order paper charts

Oceans and Fisheries Canada provides Canadian tides and current tables on their website. Consult the tide tables for predicted times and heights of tides, and the current tables for predicted times of slack water and velocities of maximum current. Tides and Currents link.You will also find a link to authorized dealers to purchase paper format charts.

8. Avoid hazardous conditions, review weather, wind and water conditions before setting out.

Environment Canada’s marine forecasts and warnings for Canadian waters are listed online and should be consulted frequently before setting sail. Marine forecast link 

9. Conduct a safety review with the guests onboard

Operators that have passed a boaters safety training test should review safety procedures with their guests before launching. If the operator becomes incapacitated, it will up to someone else to ensure the safety of everyone on board. A safety review should include touring the vessel to show the location of all safety and communication equipment equipment, and ensure the guests understand how to operate them in case of emergency.

10. Share your itinerary with a friend or family member before launching

Always let someone on land know your planned routes, estimated time to arrive back at the dock and that you have the necessary communication equipment and how to use it in emergency situations. Even the most experienced boaters may face an emergency, and having someone on land that knows of your route can help make the difference between life and death.

And of course, most marinas or private boating clubs will require an annual safety inspection and proof of insurance. If you need help determining the best insurance for the size of boat and type of boating you do, call the marine insurance experts at Harbour Insurance 1-877-731-1224.

Additional Resources

Boat Canada Course
Small Vessels- Transport Canada


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