Owning a boat can provide years of enjoyment relaxing in the sun and the water. If you are hitting the open waters this season, don’t forget to protect yourself and your loved ones by taking the right precautions.

The Basics

Licensing. If you have one or more motors adding up to at least 7.5 kW (10 hp), you need to get your boat licensed, as well as any dinghies or tenders you carry aboard or tow behind you. A pleasure craft licence gives your boat a unique licence number and is valid for ten years. It also allows Search and Rescue personnel to access your information in the event of an emergency. Having one can provide added peace of mind in case something happens to it or you while on the water, so even if you’re not required to get one you can still choose to.

Registration. In addition to licensing your boat, you may also have to (or choose to) register it. If you plan to operate it outside of Canada, it is a good idea to register your boat. It acts as your proof of ownership, which you need to cross any international borders. Registration also gives you some other important benefits, including:

  • the right to fly the Canadian flag
  • a unique name and official number for your boat
  • the right to use your boat as security for a marine mortgage

To learn more about licensing and registering your boat, visit Transport Canada’s website.

Don’t forget proof of competency. In 1999 the rules around operating a pleasure craft in Canada were changed to ensure that anyone driving a boat in our waterways does so safely. The biggest of those changes is that anyone driving a motorized craft for recreation must have documented proof of competency. The most common, and easiest to get, is a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC). There are many online and in-class course options offered throughout the country, accredited by Transport Canada, which will help you pass a boating safety test to obtain a PCOC. You can learn more about how to get your PCOC, and about the other forms of acceptable proofs of competency on the Transport Canada website.

Make sure you’re covered. While small boats, such as canoes or other un-motorized boats, are typically covered under the personal property portion of your homeowner’s insurance policy, a larger, motorized boat will need a separate boat insurance policy. A typical policy is designed to protect your boat, motor, equipment and passengers in the event of an accident, similar to what you would have on your car insurance policy.

Before you head off

Check the weather. Weather plays a significant role in being safe when you’re on the water and you should always look at the forecast in your area before deciding to go out. Environment Canada is your best source for this information, they offer specific marine forecasts that include wind speed and direction, weather and visibility that you can access online or through a marine radio. Remember, weather can change quickly, so keep your eyes on the sky and head back if you think a storm might be rolling in.

Pack your gear. The best protection you can give yourself and your passengers is to always wear a lifejacket or personal floatation device (PFD) when on the water. Make sure you have enough PFDs for each person on the boat, that are the correct size and are in good condition. Your safety gear should also include a well-stocked emergency kit that includes:

  • sound signaling device
  • watertight flashlight
  • flares
  • lights if you will be out after dark
  • compass
  • fire extinguisher

Once you have your gear prepared you should check it over regularly to ensure everything is in good repair with fresh batteries. Having the right equipment on board can make a huge difference in an emergency.

Fuel up. Once you’ve planned out your trip, it’s essential to make sure your boat has enough fuel to complete the journey. Be sure you know how much fuel your tank can hold and have a rough idea how much fuel your trip will use, it’s a good idea to plan out refueling stops ahead of time, especially on longer trips, so that you don’t get stranded. When you do fill up, make sure you follow all posted safety instructions provided by your fuel supplier – leaking or spilled fuel is not only an environmental hazard but a fire hazard as well.

Make and file a Sail Plan. Even if you are only going out for a few hours, leave a sail plan with someone you trust. A plan outlines the route you are taking and a description of your boat. If you do not return within a reasonable timeframe, they should contact the Rescue Coordination Centre. If you are heading out on a multi-day trip, you should file a daily position report to keep people up to date on your location.

Inspect your boat. Spend a few minutes taking a look around your boat. Look for cracks in the hull, hoses or lines, and check all fluid levels. Make sure to charge your battery and have enough fuel. If you do find something wrong it’s best to reschedule your trip until after the problem is fixed. Not only is it dangerous to operate an unseaworthy craft, it’s against the law.

On the Water

Avoid close quarters. Always be vigilant about watching for others on the water, especially if you are sharing the water with larger vessels. It can be challenging for them to see smaller boats and stop or avoid them, so it is best to stay clear of them whenever possible.

Be aware of what’s going on around you. When you’re on the water, you should be watching what’s happening in the sea and the sky. Familiarize yourself with what a diver down flag looks like and keep a careful watch for such flags. If you decide to go diving from your boat, remember to display these flags as well. When you see them, give divers plenty of room by keeping your boat at least 100 m away. If that’s not possible, slow down as much as you can, move ahead with caution, and stay clear of the vessel and diving site. You should also be watching the sky for aircraft, especially seaplanes. If you see one, give plenty of space for landing or taking off.

Operate at a safe speed. You may need to stop or turn suddenly on the water to avoid a collision, so choose your speed wisely. Consider factors like visibility, wind and water conditions, the other vessels around you and hazards like rocks and trees. You should also be aware of how your wake might affect your surroundings, a large wake can create a drowning risk for swimmers, and can damage docks and shorelines – slow down when you’re boating close to shore.

Stay sober. Being impaired while operating a boat is illegal and dangerous. Impaired boating is considered impaired driving under the Criminal Code of Canada – that means the same penalties apply. Additionally, in Ontario* (other provinces are considering similar legislation) the penalties and remedies will carry over to your driver’s licence. That means a first-time impaired boating conviction could result in a one-year suspension of your driver’s licence. When you operate a boat, you are responsible for the safety of your guests and other people using the waterway – it’s your responsibility to always be prepared and alert.

Docking your boat

Keep it safe and secure. In the summertime, it’s common to dock your boat at a marina. Try to dock at a marina that has standpipes, fire extinguishers, good lighting, surveillance cameras and security measures in place to protect your boat when it’s unattended.

Docking Tips

  • Use forward and reverse at idle speed when docking and moving your boat near the marina.
  • Have bumpers, mooring lines and boat hooks ready before docking.
  • Keep all body parts in the boat until you have come to a complete stop.
  • Tie the line that holds the boat against the wind first when docking.

Following these best practices will help keep you, your boat and your passengers in good form after each outing so that you can soak up the sun without worry.

Cowan is proud to be one of the most recognized marine pleasure craft insurance providers in Canada. We have partnered with CPS-ECP to provide exclusive coverage to its members. Learn more about how you can save as a CPS-ECP member by contacting us today.


*Highway Traffic Amendment Act (Licence Suspensions), 2006, S.O. 2006, c. 20 – Bill 209