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Boating Rules and Regulations
As a boater, you have to follow a set of rules and regulations that are designed to protect you, other boaters, and wildlife habitat of the region. The rules are not onerous, most involve common sense, and responsible boaters have no trouble abiding by them.
It is worth noting that Ontario has on-the-spot ticketing and fines for boaters contravening regulations issued under the Canada Shipping Act and the Department of Transport Act (which includes the Historic Canals Regulations). This makes it much easier for the police to enforce the on-water rules and makes it safer for all boaters. Fines are not cheap, many are in the the $200+ range for offences such as not carrying enough PFDs, speeding, and failure to turn off electrical equipment while refuelling.
Proof of Competency:
ALL BOATERS operating any pleasure craft fitted with a motor require a proof of competency (there are NO age or motor size exceptions). This can take the form of the following:
1. A Pleasure Craft Operator Card;
2. Proof of having successfully completed a boating safety course in Canada prior to April 1, 1999; or,
3. A completed rental-boat safety checklist
The only exception are American boaters who operate their boat in Canada for less than 45 consecutive days and whose boat is registered in the U.S. For info see Information for American Boaters.
For more information about proof of competency and how to get your pleasure craft operator's card, visit the Office of Boating Safety website at: Office of Boating Safety.
Pleasure Craft Licence (the licence for your boat):
All boats powered by a motor 7.5 kW (10 HP) or greater, must be licenced and the licence number must be clearly marked on both sides of the bow. In addition, any boat less than 5m (16 ft, 5 in) in length, powered by a motor 7.5 kW (10 HP) or greater, must carry a plate stating the maximum load and kilowatts recommended for it.
You must have a copy of your licence with you (same as the registration for a car - OPP will ask to see this.). For more info about licences and capacity plates visit the Office of Boating Safety website at: Office of Boating Safety.
- No one under the age of 16 can operate a PWC (personal watercraft).
- No one under the age of 12, who is not being directly supervised (by someone over the age of 16), may operate a vessel with more than 10 hp.
- No one between the age of 12 and 16, who is not being directly supervised (by someone over the age of 16), may operate a vessel with more than 40 hp.
Alcohol and Cannabis (Marijuana)
The rules for piloting a boat while impaired is the same as driving a car. It is against the law. The Ontario Provincial Police have the power in Ontario to crack down on impaired boating. If you're impaired while in "care or control of a vessel," including non-motorized vessels such as sailboats, canoes and kayaks, your driver's licence will be suspended (just as if you've been impaired while driving a car). It's a dangerous practice so just don't do it.
It's against the law to have care or control of a vessel underway while there is any accessible liquor or cannabis. Any liquor in a boat must be in a container that is unopened and the seal unbroken; or stored in a closed compartment. Cannabis must be in a closed or fastened container out of the reach of the pilot of the boat.
It's fine to enjoy alcohol or cannabis on your boat, but it can only be done in a boat that is equipped with a permanently fitted head (washroom), sleeping accommodations and cooking facilities AND is properly docked or at anchor.
The Ontario Provincial Police have a marine unit that patrols the Rideau.
No Dumping, Just Pumping
It is against the law in Ontario to dump any holding tanks into the water. Ideally, a boat should be equipped with a holding tank for sewage that can be pumped using a through deck fitting. Portable toilets are not permitted in Ontario unless adapted for proper shore line disposal. Many marinas offer pump-out facilities. Boating guides such as the Rideau Boating and Road Guide indicate which marinas have pump outs. In addition, all the locks and most marinas have free washroom facilities, so you can easily minimize the use of your on-board facilities.
Watch Your Wake
The waves generated by a boat, technically known as a boat's "wash" can do a great deal of damage. It can erodes shorelines, swamp the nests of loons and other waterfowl, damage docks and moored vessels, interfere with safe navigation, disrupt wetland habitat, and upset canoes and small boats, especially in narrow channels.
In Ontario, there is a shoreline speed zone which restricts all power-driven vessels to 10 km/hr (6 mph) or less within 30 metres (100 feet) of shore. This restriction does not apply:
This near shoreline speed zone does apply to the all the lake sections of the Rideau and it is being enforced by the Parks Canada and the OPP.
- in buoyed channels and canals
- on rivers, or sections of rivers less than 100 metres in width
- to vessels towing a person on water-skis or any similar equipment provided the vessel operates perpendicular to the shore, or is operated within a buoyed area where such operation is permitted.
In addition to this general regulation, various sections of the Rideau have regulated speed limit zones. Most of these will be a posted with signs indicating a maximum speed limit of 10 km/hr.
It should be noted, that from a wash generating perspective, the absolute speed is not the issue. The issue is at what speed does your boat generate a destructive wash? In restricted channels, near shore areas, and other designated "watch your wake" zones along the Rideau, please slow it down to a point where you are generating a minimum wash.
All speed zones on the Rideau are also "no wake" zones - and, in addition, there are new no-wake zones (marked with a no-wake sign). Non-compliant waves (potentially destructive wake) are not allowed in these zones. In a nutshell:
- Any vessel navigating through a zone posted as “No Wake” must, in most instances, operate fully off plane, be settled completely into the water and travel dead slow, while maintaining steerage and control.
- The wake must dissipate prior to reaching the shoreline
- The wake must not cause hazard to, or have the potential to cause hazard to, nearby vessels (including canoes and kayaks), docks, and/or people on nearby docks
Care should always be taken when refuelling. The following precautions should be taken prior to refuelling:
After refuelling, those with inboards should turn on their bilge blower for at least five minutes before starting up. Gas fumes are heavier than air and can easily build up. Starting the engine can cause an explosion and fire. Finally, just to make sure, sniff the bilge to make sure it is free of gas fumes before you start up your engine.
- engine must be turned off
- turn off all electrical circuits
- douse open flames, including pilot lights
- close ports and deck hatches
- ensure that everyone is ashore before fuelling commences
- make sure the boat is securely tied to the dock
- no smoking anywhere near the refuelling area
- hold fuelling nozzle against filler fitting to prevent any sparks
- don't overfill (i.e. stop before fuel jets from the breather)
Your boat must carry mandatory safety equipment, which depends on the length of your boat. A listing of this equipment is detailed in the Safe Boating Guide which can be downloaded from here: Office of Boating Safety.
Life Jackets / PFDs
There must be an Canadian Approved Life Jacket or PFD, of appropriate size, for every person on board. It must be in good condition (no rips/tears). If an inflatable PFD is used, it MUST BE WORN if you are in an open boat, or on deck or in the cockpit of a larger boat. Inflatable PFDs are only allowed for those 16 years of age or older.
Note, a lifejacket and a PFD are two different things. A lifejacket is designed to roll a person over so that they float face up and so offers a higher level of protection than does a PDF which generally does not have this design. See the information about these in the Safe Boating Guide available here: Office of Boating Safety.
All recreational boats powered by a motor 7.5 kW (10 HP) or greater, and under 15 gross tons, must be licensed and the licence number must be clearly marked on both sides of the bow (with letters of contrasting colour to the boat, at least 7.5 cm high). In addition, any boat less than 5m (16 ft, 5 in) in length, powered by a motor 7.5 kW (10 HP) or greater, must carry a plate stating the maximum load and kilowatts recommended for it. You must have a copy of your licence with you (same as registration for a car - OPP will ask to see this).
If your boat is more than 15 gross tons (a measure of volume), then it must be Registered (as opposed to Licensed). People with expensive boats, and/or a boat that they plan to use outside of Canadian waters and/or a boat they want to show clear title to should get it registered.
Pleasure craft licences are issued by Services Canada. For more information about this licence call Services Canada at 1-800-622-6232 or visit their website at servicecanada.gc.ca
Vessel registration is provided by Transport Canada. For more information call Transport Canada at 1–877–242–8770 or visit their website at: tc.canada.ca
The Navigation Safety Regulations (2020) require all vessels to have on board, maintain, and use, appropriate charts, tide tables, sailing directions, list of lights and other nautical publications. The exeception is if the person in charge of navigation has sufficient knowledge of the area to be navigated such that the safety and efficiency of navigation in that area will not be compromised.
Bottom line is that carrying a set of charts is highly recommended. In addition to helping you navigate, the depth readings can keep you out of trouble if you explore areas outside of the marked navigation channel. Digital charts are allowed as long as they are a "facsimile of a chart that has been printed and published by or under the authority of the Canadian Hydrographic Service".
For the Rideau, hydrographic charts 1512 and 1513, cover the full length of the waterway. You can order these on-line from World of Maps. Depending on where you are coming from, and where you plan to go, you many require other charts. A more complete list of maps and charts, including digital charts, can be found on the maps, maps, maps web page. For a complete listing of hydrographic charts, pop over to the Canadian Hydrographic Service Web Site.
Rideau charts are also available for purchase at many Rideau Lockstations. See the: Lock Services Page
Historic Canal Regulations
The following are a few of the Historic Canal Regulations:
When visiting one of Canada's historic canals, your vessel must be equipped with good mooring lines and any fenders attached to the vessel must be securely fastened to the vessel and made of material that will float.
Boaters should be aware that there are a number of activities prohibited while in a canal. These are not limited to, but include:
- excessive noise between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.;
- fishing within 10 m of a lock or approach wharf or fishing from a bridge that passes over a navigation channel;
- diving, jumping, scuba-diving, swimming in a navigation channel or within 40 m of a lock gate or a dam;
- water-skiing or other towing activities while in a navigation channel or within 100 m of a lock structure;
- mooring a vessel to any navigation aid.
For the full historic canal regulations view: laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/sor-93-220/
The full lock through procedures for Rideau Canal locks can be found on the Boating Page.
Rules of the Road
Last, but certainly not least, are the nautical rules of the road. All boaters should be familiar with these rules. Those wishing detailed information are encouraged to take a safe boating course from their local branch of the
Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons.
The most basic rules are as follows:
There are many different types of navigation markers, but a very basic rule of thumb to remember is "Red Right Returning" which means that if you are in the navigation channel, that red coloured buoys will be on your right (starboard) when you are returning upstream to home port. In the Rideau, since it crosses a height of land, we actually have two upstream directions, with Newboro being the home port in both instances. Kingston to Newboro is upstream, so traveling this direction, markers to Newboro will have a red buoys on the right, and green on the left. Past Newboro it switches since you are now traveling downstream to Ottawa, so red will now be on the left and green on the right.
If you are traveling from Ottawa to Kingston, you will have red buoys on your right from Ottawa to Newboro as you travel upstream, and then the red buoys will be on your left as you travel downstream from Newboro to Kingston. Pretty simple all in all. The charts clearly show this so you can't go wrong.
Changes to navigation aids is published in the Notice to Mariners, available on-line on the Notmar Web Page.
Here are the basic rules:
- If a boat under power approaches you on your port (left) side, then maintain your course and speed with caution.
- If a boat under power approaches you on your starboard (right) side, then move to keep clear of it.
- If two boats under power are approaching head on, each should change course to starboard, and pass port to port.
- A boat overtaking another boat must keep clear of that boat. Sound your horn, one blast to pass on starboard, two blasts to pass on port. A good boater will slow down his vessel to let the other pass him.
- A vessel under power should keep clear of unpowered boats (a sailboat under sail, rowboat, canoe, kayak).
- A vessel more than 20 metres long has the right of way over all other vessels (except one that is bigger than him :-)
A brief synopsis of information for American boaters can be found on the Information for American Boaters Page. Detailed information can be obtained from the Transport Canada's Office of Boating Safety (see contact info below).
Transport Canada Boating Information
For more information on safe boating, including information on the new regulations, call the Transport Canada's safe boating information hotline at 1-800-267-6687 (North America only) or visit the Office of Boating Safety.
The Canada Shipping Act regulates many boating activities - see: Canada Shipping Act
On Water Enforcement
Two groups have enforcement authority for boating issues on the Rideau Canal, the Ontario Provincial Police who have a marine unit serving this part of Eastern Ontario and Parks Canada wardens who are also law enforcement officers. Recently the Rideau Canal hired its own warden so that it can do direct on-water enforcement (with a bit broader mandate than the OPP).
In the case of any emergency, dial 911 and they will send the appropriate authorities.
It all boils down to being considerate of others that share the waterway with you. Don't rush your trip. Relax and enjoy your Rideau adventure. Use the motto of the Town of Perth as your credo -- "Make Haste Slowly".
Comments: send me email: Ken Watson
©1996- Ken W. Watson