Preparing Your Trip

4.7 Laws and Courtesy

Some laws that regulate boating in Canada deal specifically with courtesy. Other courtesy items are just that, an attempt to make our waterways safer and more enjoyable for all.

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, the operator of a pleasure craft can not operate that craft in a manner that is dangerous to the public.


  • Pleasure craft must stay well clear of swimmers and properties.
  • Pleasure craft operators are responsible for their vessel's wash. Make sure you operate your craft in a such a manner that your wash does not cause injury to people, erosion of the shoreline, or damage to properties.
  • Pleasure craft operators must adhere to the Collision Regulations.
  • It is imperative that operators use courtesy and common sense so that they do not create a hazard, a threat, a stress, or an irritant to themselves, to others, to the environment, or to wildlife.


As a pleasure craft operator it is your responsibility to operate your vessel in a safe and prudent manner at a speed from which you can exercise proper and effective action to avoid collision.

You must proceed at a speed that is reasonable for the conditions.

Conditions to consider include the following:

  • the state of visibility
  • the traffic density including commercial fishing vessels (which you must remain clear of) and any other vessels
  • the state of the wind
  • sea and current
  • the proximity of navigational aids

It is important to slow down in bad weather to reduce the risk of injury and accident.

Any increase in speed means that it will take longer for the boat to stop. It also means that you, as the operator, must be more attentive because you have less time to respond to changing conditions.

Be aware of local speed limits. In Ontario, for example, it is illegal to travel more than 10 km/h within 100 feet of shore except in some circumstances. There are other speed zones as well.

Boating Restriction Regulations set out guidelines for areas of restricted boating, power and speed.

Operators of pleasure craft not in sight of other vessels, in or near an area of restricted visibility, shall proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing circumstances and conditions.

Careless Operation

With the introduction of the Contraventions Act, many offences that were previously listed under the Criminal Code of Canada, will now result in fines, instead of a criminal charge.

Careless Operation, under the Small Vessel Regulations, is an offense that will bring charges.

The regulation reads, "No person shall operate a small vessel in a careless manner Laws & Courtesy without due care or without reasonable consideration for other persons."

Among other things, an operator can be charged with Careless Operation, if, as a result of excess speed their wash adversely affects:

  • other vessels including anchored vessels, grounded vessels, vessels tied to docks, wrecks, dredges, tows, rowboats or canoes
  • work being passed
  • the shoreline
  • docks or floats
  • wetlands
  • other waterway users such as swimmers, or users of bathing beaches
  • where divers are working
  • an area of anchorage

The Collision Regulations state that you must be a prudent operator at all times based on the prevailing conditions and local restrictions.

You are responsible for any damage or discomfort your boat causes to wildlife, people, objects and the shoreline.

You must take into account all other circumstances as you govern the operation of your vessel.


Drinking and boating don't mix. One third of all boating fatalities are alcohol related.

The consumption of alcohol, drugs or controlled substances could impair a person's ability to operate a pleasure craft. This is an offense under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Provincial regulations pertaining to alcohol on board boats vary across Canada. Ensure you understand the laws for the province where you are boating.

Proper Lookout

While underway, the pleasure craft operator must maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing to be aware of conditions around their vessel.

The prudent operator also is aware of their location at all times and has an escape route planned in case of an emergency.

In any emergency, you will need to get your guests and yourself ashore. It is important to be aware of where you could land, or beach the boat in an emergency.

This could be at a dock, or any shallow water area. Especially if the boat is sinking, you will prefer to find a shallow spot. Then when the problem is found, it can be patched and the boat refloated. This is less expensive than pulling it up from the bottom and it may prevent pollution.

Without a proper look-out, you could be liable if there is a problem.

Noise Abatement

A new regulation came into effect in 1999 under the Small Vessel Regulations.

Boats are not permitted within five miles of shore without a noise abatement device unless the boat was built prior to 1960.

This means that straight pipes are no longer permitted on boats.

A wet exhaust, where the exhaust is partially muffled by cooling water discharged through the exhaust pipes, is not considered a noise abatement device.

Environmental Concerns

It is illegal to dump oil, litter and garbage overboard. Marine toilets must empty into a holding tank to be pumped out at a marina.

Check your bilge regularly to ensure it is free of oil, grease and chemicals.

Oil can be absorbed by any absorbent product on the market and must be disposed of properly.


Know your boat's handling characteristics. Like many other subjects about safe boating, the knowledge is never as important as it is in an emergency.

But, that is not the time to learn.

VHF Radios

A VHF Radio is available for Emergency Response.

If you have a VHF radio, make sure you are a licensed operator. As of April, 1999 a pleasure craft in Canadian waters no longer needs a station license for the radio. Operators still need a license to use the radio.

Channel 16 is an emergency channel and The VHF is not a walkie talkie.

Monitor channel 16. It is your duty under the Canada Shipping Act to come to the aid of any vessel in distress unless that action would mean placing your vessel, yourself or your guests in danger.

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