Know the boating facts

by Jeff Helsdon | August 1, 2023

Complying with provincial and federal rules of the water can seem daunting. There are Transport Canada safety regulations, Industry Canada standards for use of VHF radios, and provincial regulations to ensure you’re not transporting invasive species. The myriad rules are enforced by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), the Canadian Coast Guard, and conservation officers. Here’s a look at what’s most important for staying safe, and compliant, on the water.

Keep it handy

OPP marine units frequently find boaters with life-jackets on board, but not accessible in the case of an emergency. For instance, storing life-jackets in the bow where someone would have to crawl on their hands and knees to access them is not acceptable, OPP Provincial Marine Co-ordinator Sgt. David Moffatt explained.

He suggested those not wearing a life-jacket should put it on the back of their seat. Accessibility is also important for other safety gear, such as buoyant throwing lines, that are required by federal regulations.


On the financial side, buyers of used boats must pay the tax on the trailer at the Ontario Ministry of Transportation when they plate it, but can now also pay the tax on the boat and motor there. Although some believe there is only tax on the boat, not the motor, Gullick said that is not the case and both are taxable.

Have your original card

Most boat owners know they need a Pleasure Craft Operator’s Card, or other proof of competency, if they have a motor on their boat. This also applies to electric motors. Boaters must also carry the original card, not a photocopy.

You pay for wake damage

Although speed limit signs don’t exist on most waters, Moffatt said boaters need to be travelling at a speed that allows them to take “early and defensive action to avoid collision.” This means not travelling too fast at night or in conditions where visibility is limited, and in areas of high traffic. Boaters are legally responsible for any damage caused by their wake. For example, if a boater is operating close to shore at a high speed and wake causes damage to a docked boat, the boater that caused the waves could be taken to court for the damages.


Boaters must have bow and stern lights, as well as an operating flashlight when on the water from sunset to sunrise, and in conditions of reduced visibility (such as fog). The stern light must be visible from 360 ̊ around the boat. Moffatt has heard of instances where tape was put on the front of the stern light to stop light pollution. This is not acceptable.

Have fresh flares

Large boats or any boat that travels more than one nautical mile from shore needs to have flares aboard. Be aware they expire after four years.

Renew your registration

Those who have boats with a motor larger than 9.9 horsepower must also licence their boat and display their registration number. What many boaters aren’t aware of is they need to renew the license every 10 years, and if a proposal before government goes ahead, it will be every five years, and there will be a $15 cost. Some sailboats will also need a license.

Licensed to talk

If there is a VHF marine radio in the boat, the operator must have a restricted operator’s certificate, according to Canadian Power Squadron (CPS) manager of special programs, John Gullick. While some believe they are okay if they don’t turn the radio on, or talk on it, Gullick stressed that’s not the case. There is a Canadian station licence issued by Industry Canada for these radios, which is not needed on Canadian waters but is in the US.


Federal regulations require any boat with a built-in fuel tank, inboard engine or gas-operated appliances to have a 5BC fire extinguisher on board. It must be charged.

Engine cutoff

New rules coming into effect will require operators of boats with an emergency disconnect to use it when on plane when in US waters.

Clean it up

New provincial regulations require the owner of any watercraft, from kayak to power boat, to drain the bilge water and remove any aquatic plants, animals, and algae from their craft and trailer before traversing overland to another water body.

Drinking laws

Alcohol may only be consumed on a boat if it has permanent sleeping quarters, cooking appliances, and a toilet, and is attached to the ground somehow by anchoring or docking. The key word is permanent with this law, Moffatt pointed out.

Trailer inspection not needed

There has been confusion regarding trailer inspections for large boats and certification for vehicles pulling them. The good news is, in 2019, pick-up trucks and trailers for personal use were made exempt from the annual inspection and displaying the yellow sticker.


In the eyes of provincial conservation officers, a boat is treated the same as any other vehicle. Hunters can’t shoot from a vehicle, and the same applies on water.

According to NDMNRF Provincial Enforcement Specialist David Critchlow, this means no shooting from any boat with a motor attached that provides a means of propulsion. Even if the motor is turned off. This means no shooting from a motorized boat when travelling down a river in search of moose.

Waterfowling exception

You can hunt for migratory birds and double-breasted cormorant, as long your motor is turned off and not moving (the motor can stay in the water).

The motor can also be used when chasing crippled birds, but the hunter can’t shoot until forward motion has ceased and the motor is turned off.

Originally published in the July 2022 issue of Ontario OUT of DOORS

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  1. Wayne Scrimshaw wrote: You do not need flares when over 1 mile from shore. This requirement is based on the size of your boat not the distance from shore.