With summer in full swing, many vacationers are heading to the rivers and lakes. Boating is a common pastime in Ontario, but it is not without its dangers. Before you head out on the water, ensure you have fulfilled all legal requirements and are prepared with respect to boating safety.

While claims relating to boating accidents can appear similar to other types of motor vehicle accident claims, there are exceptions and technicalities relating to how and where boats can be operated that may impact your claim. Furthermore, it can become difficult to recover damages from an at-fault party as boat drivers are not required to carry insurance.

Who Can Own or Operate Boats in Ontario?

The Small Vessel Regulations govern how certain kinds of boats can be used in Ontario, including pleasure craft (boats used for pleasure rather than work). In this post, we are specifically speaking about pleasure crafts when we refer to “boats”.

Canadian citizens or permanent residents who own a boat are not required to register their boat, however, they are encouraged to do so voluntarily. Pleasure crafts meeting certain criteria must be licenced, which assigns a unique identification number to the vessel, to be used by rescue personnel in case of an emergency. Boats must be licenced unless:

  • The boat is a pleasure craft using a motor with less than 10 horsepower (7.5 kW).
  • The boat is registered.
  • The boat was purchased within the previous 90 days (this is a grace period before licencing is required; boat owners must have proof of identity, address, and the purchase date).

Boat owners are not required to insure their boats by law in Ontario (though you may be required to provide proof of insurance when purchasing or financing a boat, or storing a boat in a marina).

Anyone who operates a power-driven boat in Canada must also have proof of competency, such as a Pleasure Craft Operating Card. Operating a boat without a boating license can result in a fine of $250.00.

In addition to the requirements noted above, boat drivers must be at least 16 years old to operate boats without supervision in Ontario, with certain limited exceptions. 

What Kinds of Restrictions Apply to the Operation of a Boat?

Boat drivers are prohibited from operating in a dangerous manner in Canada under the Criminal Code. “Dangerous manner” means operating a boat in a manner that causes danger to the public given the nature and condition of the waters and the activities that may reasonably be expected to occur at that time. Under the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations, it is also illegal to operate a boat at a greater than 10 km/hour within 100 feet of the shore in Ontario, unless a posted speed limit says otherwise. Finally, the Small Vessel Regulations state that a boat may not be operated in a careless manner without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons. 

Boating Accidents in Ontario

Unfortunately, boating accidents are not uncommon in Ontario, and failing to follow the rules outlined above can have significant impacts on your claim or prevent you from bringing a claim altogether if you are injured.

Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to accident benefits if an accident occurs. If another person is at fault for the accident, you can likely bring a personal injury claim against them. Note, however, that you may struggle to recover damages from a party who was uninsured if you are involved in a boating accident.

Recreational Boating Safety Tips

As always, the best thing you can do is avoid getting into an accident in the first place. Before heading out on the lake, read up on boating safety and consider, at a minimum, the following:

  • Obtain your proof of competency and take an accredited boating safety course approved by Transport Canada.
  • Review the rules that apply to operating a boat in Ontario
  • Ensure you have appropriate insurance coverage for your boat
  • Carry or wear appropriate safety gear on board (including, but by no means limited to, proper personal floatation devices (PFDs)
  • Prepare for inclement weather
  • Use lights on your boat at night to alert other boaters to your presence
  • Plan your route and be aware of potential hazards, such as submerged rocks and overhead obstacles
  • Let others know where you’re planning to go (especially if you expect to be out of service areas)

Finally, remember that it is a criminal offence to consume alcohol, drugs, or other illicit substances while operating a boat in Ontario.

For a more comprehensive review of boating safety guidelines, see this guide provided by Transport Canada.

Skilled Boating Accident Lawyers Serving Eastern Ontario and North Bay

At Tierney Stauffer LLP, our experienced personal injury lawyers have the knowledge to handle a variety of personal injury claims, regardless of how the accident happened. Non-traditional accidents, such as boating accidents, can involve special legal issues that require the attention of an experienced personal injury lawyer. If you have been injured in a boating accident, consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to determine what benefits you are entitled to and whether you have a valid claim.

Our team has many years of experience dealing with personal injury cases, including boating accidents, and we have a comprehensive understanding of boating rules and restrictions as a result. Call us at 1-888-799-8057 or contact us online to arrange a consultation with a member of our team.


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