Boating Safety

Safe Boating – What FOCA sees

FOCA reminds everyone that while enjoying our waterways can be a wonderful outdoor experience, it is important to be vigilant while having fun. Lakes and rivers can be unpredictable and also quite busy during the peak summer season in Ontario. Boaters can ensure a safe experience for all by being prepared, paying attention while under way, and observing the rules of the ‘road’.

Heading out on your boat? First, review the Transport Canada Safe Boating Guide (pdf; 79 pages) which includes a “pre-departure checklist” and detailed descriptions of the safety equipment required on various types of vessels. Note: there are even requirements for Stand Up Paddleboards > visit Paddle Canada for more details. Next, read these quick tips from FOCA: Boating Tips to Prevent the Spread of Invasives! (pdf, 1 page) BE SAFE!

April 12, 2022 – FOCA participated in the Ontario Recreational Boating Advisory Council (ON-RBAC) meeting, where Transport Canada (TC) reported that they are continuing to study PFD (personal flotation device) usage, to consider any proposed regulations such as mandatory use. TC also confirmed that changes are coming to the PCOC (Pleasure Craft Operator Card) to require that PWC (personal water craft) renters under the age of 21 can’t just use the Rental Boat Safety Checklist; rather, they need to be accompanied by someone 25 year or older with a valid PCOC, or have their own PCOC. Read more on this topic, summarized by Cottage Life in May 2022.

Feb.2022 – The New Labelling Standards for PFDs (BoatBlurb)

November 2021 – the OPP released statistics on boat fatalities over the past 11 years. The graph shows that 86% of fatalities during that period were people who were NOT wearing a lifejacket. Click the image at the side to enlarge.

July 2021 – In light of recent tragic boat accidents on Ontario’s waterways, please see this important video message about boating safely, from our friends at the OPP Marine Unit.

June 9 2021 – Update on proposed changes which would no longer recognize the “Rental Boat Safety Checklist” (RBSC) as a form of proof of operator competency:

In late 2020 FOCA and others commented to Transport Canada (TC) (the regulatory body, who has their rules enforced in Ontario by OPP Marine unit) that a simple checklist did not suffice to ensure a renter was adequately prepared to safely operate a rental boat.

Recognizing the ongoing concern about rental boat safety and renter competency, TC consultations were held via Let’s Talk Transportation, between November 12, 2020 and January 15, 2021. As a result of comments received, TC will NOT be rescinding the RBSC. A revised proposal is that anyone renting a PWC under the age of 25 must have a PCOC and cannot use the RBSC, but if supervised by someone 25 or older they can use the RBSC.

There is currently no word of further details, or when these amendments would be officially posted. Stay tuned.

Complaints or concerns about safety should continue to be directed to your local OPP detachment.

May 5, 2021 – What to do if you’re involved in a boat crash (Cottage Life)

May 22-28, 2021 is “Safe Boating Awareness Week.” Get tips from our partners at the Canadian Safe Boating Council (CSBC). Share their 5 key messages:

  1. wear your lifejacket
  2. boat sober
  3. be prepared – you, and your boat
  4. take a boating course
  5. be aware of cold-water risks.
CSBC also reminds you to keep in mind recommendations related to physical distancing, and should be – and not be – on your boat at this time. Here’s to a great season on the water!

April 27, 2020 – COVID-19: Physical Distancing for Canadian Boaters (download PDF; from Transport Canada)

Boating During COVID-19: Navigating Local Restrictions & Safe Social Distancing (link to online resources from Discover Boating and partners, including the image “Social Distancing When Boating” at the side)

Transport Canada, and Recreational Boating

Transport Canada (TC) has established a number of committees that advise the department in various ways.  The Ontario Recreational Boating Advisory Committee (ON-RBAC)  provides Transport Canada with advice on matters related to the safety of recreational boaters, the safe operation of recreational boats, the safe and environmentally friendly use of recreational waterways and any other issue of interest.

Participants include staff from the TC Office of Boating Safety, recreational boating interests, commercial interests, safety organizations, marina operators, boat manufacturers and members of the law enforcement community.  FOCA is a current member of this committee.

More Resources:

You are also encouraged to check out all the resources available on the Canadian Safe Boating Council website

Earlier News:

December 2020 – FOCA reminds everyone to be aware of the dangers of cold water boating this season. Download an information sheet from FOCA: Cold Water Immersion (pdf; 1 page) and find more information on the website of the Canadian Safe Boating Council.

November 2020 – Sgt. Dave Moffatt, OPP Provincial Marine Coordinator, spoke at FOCA’s Fall Seminar for Lake Associations about the boating season in 2020. Some highlights:

  • boating traffic was up this summer (you weren’t just imagining that!)
  • 58% of deaths occurred in “non Summer time” (=Sept.16 to June 14)
  • 86% of deceased victims were NOT wearing a PFD

FOCA Members can register to access the webinar recording and slides for all the presentations, including this one. Please share boating safety information with everyone at your waterbody.

November 2019 – FOCA’s colleagues at the Canadian Safe Boating Council (CSBC) have noted a decrease in boating-related drownings from 2012-2016, compared to the previous 5 year period. Some additional stats: canoes were the second-most common vessel involved in boating-related drowning fatalities, and wearing lifejackets at the time of the incident continues to be a deciding factor in survival rates. Read the full report from the Lifesaving Society.

July 2019 – Can You Tell When a Person is Drowning? (Soundings)

December 3, 2018 – What vessel decision in trial involving drowned Muskoka boy means for Canadians – A case that impacts everyone, coast to coast (

August 2018 – recent data released from the US Coast Guard identifies the top causes of boating accidents in 2016. See all the statistics (PDF, 1 page) including:

  • the top category (with 2600 accidents, including 285 deaths) was related to VESSEL OPERATIONS (operator inattention- 597; inexperience- 480; improper lookout- 475; excessive speed- 360; alcohol- 282)
  • ENVIRONMENTAL CAUSES (660 accidents, 139 deaths) included weather- 214 and hazardous waters-205.

September 2016 – Get end-of-season tips for safely preparing your boat(s) for winter storage, from Boats & Places. Click here to visit the online article.

June 24, 2015 –According to a news release from OPP including ten years of fatality data, boaters need to make better decisions for themselves and their passengers before and during their outdoor adventure. Here are excerpts from the News Release:

Alcohol, capsized boats, no safety equipment common themes in summer recreation deaths – A ten-year snapshot into boating and off-road incidents investigated by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has revealed that capsized boats and lack of safety equipment have been the most common factors in fatal boating incidents while alcohol leads the list of factors in off-road vehicle (ORV) incidents.

Over the past ten years (2005 – 2014), 276 people have lost their lives in 245 boating incidents and 167 people have died in 165 ORV incidents in OPP jurisdiction.

Marine fatalities: The ten-year data revealed that a capsized boat was the leading cause in 78 of the 245 boating incidents. Occupants falling overboard was the second leading cause with 76 such incidents. Alcohol was found to be the primary cause of 26 boating mishaps and a swamped vessel placed fourth with 14 occurrences.

The most concerning data is that — over the ten-year period — life jackets and personal flotation devices (PFD) were extremely under-utilized, with 226 of the 276 deceased not wearing one at the time of the incident. Sadly, many of the victims may have otherwise survived their ordeal had they chosen to wear this important life saving equipment.

The majority of the boating victims were male (254) and 22 of them were female. Of those killed, 177 were the boat operator, 87 were passengers and in seven of the incidents, it was not known if the victim was a driver or a passenger. The other five victims were not occupants in the boat involved in the incident.

ORV fatalities: ORV fatality data revealed that 77 of the 165 fatalities were alcohol or drug-related. Not wearing a helmet was not far behind with 74 of the deaths being linked to this factor. Speed was a contributing factor in 51 of the incidents over the ten-year period. Most of the victims were the driver of the ORV (153) and 14 were passengers. Of those who died, 143 were males and 24 were females.

What the Data Tells Us: According to OPP Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair, Provincial Commander, Traffic Safety and Operational Support, many of these 443 boaters and ORV riders may have been alive today had they made better decisions for themselves and their passengers before and during their outdoor adventure.

“Our data could not make it any clearer that the risks to all and the consequences for some do not change from year-to-year when mixing boating and off-roading with alcohol or drugs, driving carelessly, and not being equipped or prepared to survive an unexpected life-threatening turn of events on the water and on the trails,” said Blair.

This is the third installment in a series of comprehensive statistics-based News Releases the OPP is disseminating in its effort to raise awareness of the behaviours that cause senseless, preventable collisions and incidents that result in deaths on Ontario roads, waterways and trails every year.

For further information, below are contacts by OPP Region:

  • Highway Safety Division: Sergeant Kerry Schmidt, Phone: (416) 460-4701;
  • Central Region: A/Sgt. Lynda Cranney, Phone: (705) 330-3738;
  • East Region: Sergeant Kristine Rae, Phone: (613) 285-2750;
  • Northwest Region: Sergeant Shelley Garr, Phone: (807) 473-2734;
  • North East Region: Sergeant Carolle Dionne, Phone: (705) 845-2738;
  • West Region: Sergeant Dave Rektor, Phone: (519) 652-4156

July 2014 – Boating safety update: According to the Ontario Provincial Police, there have been 11 boating fatalities already this season, 6 more deaths than were recorded in the same period in 2013. Nine of the victims were not wearing lifejackets, underlining the importance of wearing your PFD while boating, otherwise it may not help you in the event of a mishap on the water. Marine Safety Tips – from OPP files:

  • Always Wear your Lifejacket – If you don’t wear it, it won’t work. Examine PFDs and lifejackets for wear and tear and identify those that need replacing. If you have inflatable PFDs be sure to be familiar with their operating instructions.
  • Check your Boat – Familiarize yourself with the boat you are operating. Check the condition of your vessel and ensure it is properly prepared for the boating season.
  • Be Prepared – Mechanical breakdowns account for a significant number of calls for assistance to the Ontario Provincial Police. Most of these embarrassing incidents are preventable by ensuring your vessel is serviceable, you have sufficient gas. Part of being prepared is also making sure that the weather and water conditions are suitable for your day out on the water.
  • Planning – Remember when things go wrong on the water, it happens very quickly and you don?t always have time to react.  A prudent skipper always discusses his or her plans with a family member before they set out.
  • Don’t Drink & Boat – It is unacceptable to drink and drive a motor vehicle and the same holds true for drinking and boating. If you are caught operating a vessel while impaired you will also loose your ability to operate your motor vehicle. ‘Don’t Drink and Boat’ Poster.

More information on Impaired Boating from the OPP (2014):

Bill 209 gave police services across Ontario another tool in their efforts to reduce deaths and injuries on our waterways. This legislation provided police officers with authority to suspend driver’s licences (12 hour suspension) and issue an 90 day Administrative Driver’s Licence Suspension (ADLS) if the boat operator registers a fail on a breath test. Upon conviction of Impaired Operation of a Vessel or Operation in Excess 80 mgs. of alcohol, the courts now have the authority to suspend the persons driver’s licence for a minimum of one year. The Ignition Interlock Program will also apply when a conviction is registered.

July 2014 – The Canadian Safe Boating Council, a national boating safety organization, offered grants of up to $2,500 to charitable and not-for-profit organizations. The Grass Root Safety Initiative was a 2014 program which aimed to capitalize on the large number of local boating safety initiatives which offer an incredible service to local boating safety awareness. A number of these initiatives go unrecognized by national funding agencies because they are often perceived as too small. However, many of these campaigns provide incredible value to sharing ‘good ideas’ and best practices to others promoting boating safety at the local level.

The CSBC, having nationwide outreach, sensitivity to boating safety issues, and members/communication networks ‘on the ground’ across the country, can provide the support and cohesiveness for local initiatives. The objective of the Grass Roots Safety Initiative was to support boating safety initiatives tailored to local needs and building on local boating safety capacity.

  • Wear a PFD or Lifejacket
  • Don’t Drink & Boat
  • Take a Boating Course
  • Be Prepared, Both You and Your Vessel
  • Be Wary of the Dangers of Cold Water Boating

Related Resources from FOCA:

Boating – Overview webpage

Shoal & Hazard Marking considerations

Michelle LewinBoating Safety