Know the Rules of the Waterways in Canada

Rules of the waterways

Playing it safe on the water and enjoying the Canadian wilderness also means you need to be well-versed in Canadian marine regulations. Doing so will help prevent collisions on the water and keep boating a safer activity.

By following the government’s collision regulations, you can better understand the rules of the waterways. These rules apply to registered and licensed boaters including anyone who navigates a kayak, pontoon boat, supertanker, or canoe. 

Rules Worth Remembering

Let’s review some of the safety rules and etiquette you need to follow.

Always Watch Out for Larger Vessels

If you’re sharing the water routes with larger vessels, remember that they can’t see you as well as you can see them. Plus, it takes them longer to stop. Therefore, be aware and be prepared to move quickly and out of their way, if necessary. 

Some boaters do not realize the dangers they face when they pass larger ships or cross a shipping lane. In these cases, there is a strong probability that a ship won’t see you until it’s too late. Therefore, always keep a watch for larger vessels and be prepared to yield, if needed. Keep in mind the current water and weather conditions as well.

Other Rules of the Waterways That Are Well Worth Noting

Follow these other tips as well:

  • Use radar equipment or radio for extra safety.
  • Navigate your boat among other small boats to increase visibility.
  • Don’t operate your boat if it is foggy or too windy.
  • Stay clear and veer away from ferries in transit, vessels in tow, docked ferries, and commercial fishing vessels. According to the law, a vessel that is under 20 meters or 65’7”, or is classified as a  sailboat, must stay clear of larger vessels navigating in a channel. If you don’t take this precaution, be prepared to hear the larger vessel emit 5 or more short blasts from its horn. This is an emergency signal that you’re in the way and need to move immediately.
  • Provide plenty of room for tugs and other towing vessels. A tow line is often very long and invisible, hiding beneath the water’s surface – something that makes it hazardous to boaters. Therefore, you never want to pass between a tug and its tow. The boat may capsize if you hit it or you could get run over by the towed vessel. Therefore, you need to provide plenty of space for the tow – in every direction.

Avoiding Other Dangerous Behaviors 

When you’re operating a licensed or registered boat, you also have to show you’re qualified to operate the vessel. To prove your ability, you’ll need to obtain a PCOC card – or a pleasure craft operator card. This card proves that you can operate a power-driven boat and that you understand the basic safety rules and regulations of the waterways. You’ll need to carry this card if you operate any boat with a motor.

Tips for Staying Safe While You Navigate

To ensure you avoid dangerous behaviors on the waterways, it helps to keep the following rules in mind.

Some of the worst boating accidents occur when an operator misjudges the speed or distance from another boat. Therefore, it’s important to navigate your boat at a safe speed. Don’t try to cut in front of another boat and always go slow when you travel in misty conditions, darkness, rain, or fog. 

Remember, too, that you may have to turn suddenly or stop abruptly to avoid a wreck on the waterways. Therefore, you always need to be aware of your speed to prevent an accident. 

Stay on the Lookout for the Following Dangers

Pay attention to the following:

  • Wind and water conditions
  • How fast your boat is able to change direction
  • What types of watercraft and how many vessels are operating near your boat
  • Natural navigational hazards, such as tree stumps and rocks
  • The visibility level – especially if entering and leaving a fog bank

Also, the wake of a boat can damage other vessels, the shoreline, or the dock. It can also create a risk for divers, swimmers, or operators of small boats, who might capsize from the turbulence. Therefore, when you’re choosing a speed, you have to keep this in mind.

Driving While Impaired

It’s unlawful in Canada to drive a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Therefore, it’s important to stay sober while navigating a PCL or any similar vessel. If you board a boat while you’re impaired, you are also a danger to others. 

Alcohol intensifies the effects of a boat’s motion and increases any fatigue you may be experiencing. In addition, it reduces your fine motor skills, such as hand-eye coordination, and reduces your ability to make logical decisions. 

Punishments for Impaired Driving for First-Time Offenders

Driving a boat or car while impaired in Canada is subject to punishment, pursuant to the country’s Criminal Code. Convictions for a first offense may result in one or more of the following punishments:

  • A sizable fine
  • Prohibition of the use of a vessel and its operation
  • Boat seizure
  • A possible prison term

Laws covering impairment follow territorial and provincial driving regulations. 

Reducing a Boat’s Engine Noise

If you operate a motorized boat (other than a vessel with a stock outboard engine), you must have it equipped with a muffler. 

You must use this equipment if you’re navigating a boat within five nautical miles (or 9.26 km) from the shore. This law does not apply to older boats built before 1960 or to boaters engaged in official competitions or who are training for the events.

When you license or register a boat in Canada, you also need to follow the rules of the waterways. Doing so will give you an edge with respect to safety and make it more pleasant to sail or boat to your heart’s content. Knowledge is power, so use it to safely set sail or boat on Canadian lakes and streams.

Rules of the waterways

Get in Touch with the Canadian Vessel Registry If You Need to Register or License Your Boat

Contact the Canadian Vessel Registry to learn more about how to register your boat, transfer boat ownership, or register your boat online. If you have a 10-horsepower boat in Canada, you must license or register your vessel to stay compliant. Don’t wait. Get your license number or registration certificate today.