1.1 Laws & Boating Terms


After completing this section you will be able to:

  1. Identify specific areas of the main Acts, Codes and Regulations governing recreational boating, explain what they govern and why you need to know these areas.
  2. Understand the information provided on Capacity Plates and Standards Decals.
  3. Understand vessel licensing and the correct identification marks to use on your boat.

Boating in Canada is governed by seven important acts, codes and regulations that apply to all operators and vessels.

Pleasure craft operators must be aware of them and they must also be aware of how they regulate the operation of their vessels.

Violation of any of the acts, codes and regulations, can bring charges against the pleasure craft operator.

When operating a boat, you are responsible for the vessel, your guests and crew and any damage caused by your boat's movement through the water, including damage from the boat's wash.

Boating in Canada is regulated by the Canada Shipping Act and the Criminal Code of Canada. Other boating regulations are issued under the authority of the Canada Shipping Act.

Canada Shipping Act

The Canada Shipping Act incorporates international rules into a framework that governs the operation of vessels in Canadian waters. It is the umbrella act under which other boating regulations are developed.

One rule states that pleasure craft operators should watch for signals that indicate distress and need of assistance from other vessels and must come to the aid of another boater in distress unless it means placing their own vessel and lives in danger.

Small Vessel Regulations

The Small Vessel Regulations cover construction standards and safe operation of a pleasur craft including maintenance.

The Small Vessel Regulations also state what safety equipment must be carried on board and how it must be maintained.

These regulations explain when a vessel must be licensed, regulate the use of capacity plates, spell out PFD and lifejacket regulations and the carriage and use of pyrotechnic distress signals.

Collision Regulations

The Collision Regulations are a series of rules and regulations governing safe passage, rights of way, crossing and overtaking, sound signals and fog signals. Pleasure craft operators must know and adhere to these regulations.

Under the Collision Regulations it is the responsibility of every skipper to maintain a vigilant look-out by sight and hearing and they shall at all times, use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to make a full appraisal of their current situation to determine if the risk of collision exists.

Pleasure craft operators must, at all times, proceed at a speed that permits proper and effective action to be taken to avoid a collision.

Collision Regulations describe the proper conduct for a vessel under all conditions of visibility. They describe the proper conduct of vessels in sight of any other vessels, they describe acceptable lights and shapes permitted on vessels, they describe proper soun and light signals and the use of passive radar reflectors.

Collision Regulations also govern the operation of a vessel when there are no other vessels in sight.

Boating Restriction Regulations

Boating Restriction Regulations govern standardized (usually near shore) speed limits, restricted boating areas where certain types of boats may not be permitted and maximum horsepower regulations in certain areas. Many of these are local regulations.

Charts & Nautical Publications Regulations

The Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations require pleasure craft operators to have on board at all times the latest, large scale charts, required publications and required documents related to the boat and the waters in which it is operating.

The only exemption is where the operator has local knowledge of the water in which they are operating. This is a subjective issue. It is important to always have the necessary publications on board.

Nautical charts are graphic representations of water, depths, underwater hazards, traffic routes, aids to navigation and the shoreline. They are intended for use by mariners and are published by the Hydrographic Service, Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

Nautical Charts include a Compass Rose that identifies True North. Chart plotting and compass work are not part of this course. But, operators must be aware that with a chart and a magnetic compass on board their boat they can determine in which direction they need to proceed to arrive at their destination.

Magnetic compasses point to magnetic north. It is important to mount the magnetic compass away from metallic objects and electrical devices that could cause a false reading.

Always carry the latest charts and update them regularly through the Notices to Mariners.

Aids to navigation move and are changed and other important features may change from one season to the next. Updated charts help ensure operators can locate their position in an emergency.

Topographical Maps are maps of land areas depicting natural and artificial features of the land, including elevation contours, shoreline, rocks, land features above water and cultural features. They are designed to be used on land and depict geological features. Published by the Department of Natural Resources and provincial authorities, they should not be used as charts.

The only exception is in places where there are no charts and then they must be used cautiously for direction only.

Topographical maps do not depict underwater hazards, marine aids to navigation, channels and anchorage areas.

Criminal Code of Canada

The Criminal Code of Canada provides law enforcement authorities with the ability to charge boaters for criminal offences.

Under the Criminal Code, pleasure craft operators must stop and offer assistance when they have been in an accident.

The Criminal Code also states vessels can not be operated in a manner that is dangerous to the public.

It states that people can not send false emergency messages or interfere with a marine signal. That means operators can't tie up to a navigation buoy or damage one in any way.

The Criminal Code requires a look-out person for water skiing and prohibits water skiing from one hour after sunset to sunrise.

Under the Criminal Code it is illegal to knowingly operate a craft which is not seaworthy.

The Criminal Code states that it is illegal to drink alcohol and operate a boat. Alcohol is only permitted on boats outfitted as residences with designated sleeping areas, a galley and a head.

The Contraventions Act

The Contraventions Act provides for fines for many of the boating offences that were previously criminal offences.

In the past, enforcement authorities were hesitant to ticket boaters for many minor offences because they would result in a criminal record.

The Contraventions Act gives any and all enforcement agencies the authority to write tickets for boating offences ranging from equipment infractions to operating infractions.

Fines, usually between $100 and $200, are levied for most offences.

Next Page: 1.2 Standard Decals & Licensing