Boating Safety and the Law

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Canada Shipping Act (CSA) governs the operation of all vessels in Canadian Waters, large or small. The Canadian Coast Guard regulates small craft under its authority. Boaters are affected in four ways:

  • First as to the certification of pleasure craft operators
  • Second as to the licensing or registration of pleasure craft
  • Third, the equipment which by law is required to be carried aboard various sizes of pleasure craft
  • Fourth, the operation of pleasure craft in accordance with the rules

Other acts, codes and regulations that boaters should be aware of and apply to all operators of recreational craft are:

  • Criminal Code of Canada
  • Contraventions Act
  • Boating Restriction Regulations
  • Collision Regulations
  • Small Vessel Regulations
  • Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations

The operator of a pleasure craft is responsible for the lives of those on board. He/She is also responsible for any damage the boat causes through negligent operation.

Every boater who fails to comply with or contravenes any provision of these regulations is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $500.00 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.

Criminal Code

Violations of the Canada Shipping Act can also translate into offences under the Criminal Code of Canada. Boaters can be subject to fines not less than $500, or up to 6 months in prison under a summary conviction, for being impaired upon the water.

The following are also in violation of the Criminal Code of Canada:

  • Operating a boat in a manner that is dangerous to the public
  • Operating a vessel while impaired by alcohol or drugs
  • Not keeping watch of a person in tow (water-skiers, etc)
  • Towing a person after dark
  • Knowingly operating an unseaworthy vessel
  • Sending a false message (i.e.: false distress calls
  • Interfering with any marine signal by tying the boat to a navigation signal, buoy, or other sea-mark used for navigation purposes, or
  • Wilfully altering, removing, or concealing a signal, buoy or other seamark used for navigation purposes

Contraventions Act

In 1996, the federal government's Contraventions Act came into effect. Among other things, this act enables law enforcement officials to issue tickets and fines for offences under the Transport Canada Small Vessels Regulations or the Boating Restriction Regulations.

Typical offenses include failing to carry the necessary safety equipment or committing other infractions on the water. Some examples (quoted from 1996):

Licence numbers marked incorrectly;
Unlicenced boat $55
Speeding $100
When fuelling, failure to: use funnel, close doors or ports, switch off electricals $105
Not enough flares, oars, paddles, anchor $155
Competency requirements (license) $100-250
Age/horsepower restrictions $250
Missing bailer or manual pump (boat not over 5.5m) $200.00
Not enough PFDs, lifejackets, bailer, manual pump, fire extinguishers $205
Careless operation $200
Failure to switch off electrical equipment when refuelling: $200.00

For a complete list of fines, call the Canadian Coast Guard Hotline at 1-800-267-6687.

Boating Restrictions Regulations

Boating Restriction Regulations are enforced on specific bodies of water and pertain to local regulations such as:

  • Authorized Signs [ie: vessel speed limit, 'no wake' zone (courtesy in shared waterways),etc]
  • Maximum Engine Power Allowed
  • Waters on which vessels are prohibited/permitted
  • Age Prohibitions

Every person who contravenes these Regulations is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $500.

Collision Regulations

"These Rules shall apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels."

The Collision Regulations is a set of rules adopted and accepted internationally to govern the navigation of all seafaring vessels. Whether you boat commercially or just for pleasure, it is your responsibility, as captain of your vessel, to be completely educated in the 'Rules of the Road'.

"Every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions to determine if risk of collision exists. If there is any doubt such risk shall be deemed to exist."

Colregs (as they are also known) are responsible for giving an internationally accepted set of rules pertaining to navigation ('right of way', 'identifying vessels with restricted manuevreability', etc) as well as distress signals, sounds signals, lights and buoys (with Canadian Modifications). We will explore these more thoroughly later on.

Small Vessel Regulations

Small Vessel Regulations supply information on the following:

  • Licensing Of Vessels
  • Minimum Safety Equipment requirements for Pleasure Craft
  • Conformity Plates, Capacity Plates and Single Vessel Plates
  • Safety Precautions (for fueling, engine start-up, towing, etc)
  • Accident reporting
  • Equipment Standards

If you are unsure as to the mandatory equipment requirements for your vessel, please click the heading ('Small Vessel Regulations') above, to find out.

Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations

These Regulations apply to Canadian ships in all waters and to all ships in waters under Canadian jurisdiction.

These regulations pertain to:

  • Carriage of Charts and Publications
  • Use of Charts
  • Use of Documents and Publications
  • Maintenance of Charts, Documents and Publications

Rendering Assistance

The operator of a pleasure craft should watch for signals that indicate distress and need of assistance. If a boater is involved in, or comes across an accident on the water, the operator has an obligation to stop and offer assistance as described in the Criminal Code of Canada; "in so far as he/she can do so without serious danger to their own craft and the persons on board, shall render assistance to every person who is found at sea and in danger of being lost."

In short, marine law requires that the boater must do what they can to help. In turn, boaters are also protected by the Canada Shipping Act and cannot be held responsible for any assistance they give, providing they have done what any prudent seafarer of their ability would do.

Canadian Compliance Plates and Boat Licences

The number of persons that can be carried safely depends on the type of boat, distribution of passengers and equipment carried.

Every boat built in, sold in or brought into Canada, must bear a Standards Decal indicating that the boat meets Canadian Government Construction Standards, called a Conformity Plate.

Boats not over 6.0 m long, and powered by an outboard engine of 7.5 kW (10 hp) or more, must also have a Capacity Plate permanently attached in plain view. The capacity plate states the recommended safe limits of engine power, which is the recommended gross load capacity that can be safely carried in the hull. Gross load capacity is defined as; the total weight of equipment, stores, fuel, motor assembly, steering controls, and equivalent number of adult persons. Remember that these are maximums for fair weather operation.

The Single Vessel Plate is issued to homebuilt boats or those boats built by a builder no longer in business instead of a Capacity or Conformity Plate.

The licensing of a boat is a comparatively simple process administered by Canada Customs and Revenue Branch. The licence number is free of charge, provides identification, and is useful in the event of loss or for Search and Rescue purposes. The number must be clearly displayed on each side of the vessel as close to the bow as possible and read left to right. The minimum size of the blocked characters is 7.5 cm high. This applies to vessels over 7.5 kW (10 hp).

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