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    Lake Safety    

Pleasure Craft Operator Card

All operators of powered watercraft including PWC's, regardless of age of operator, need the Pleasure Craft Operator Card. Operators without proof of "competency" could face fines as much as $250 according to FOCA. If you lend your watercraft to someone who is not a certified operator, you also risk facing a fine from police.

You can study online or print the Safe Boating Course Manual (approximately 70 pages). The Manual can also be purchased for $20 by calling toll free for Credit Card payment: 1-866-688-2628. Taking the exam online costs $49.95 plus taxes. Retry if needed is free. For more information please access

Stand Up Paddleboard Safety Regulation

In  July 2015 we heard that a young person was issued a $350 fine by an OPP Marine Unit for not having a lifejacket or personal flotation device while using a stand up paddleboard on Manitouwabing Lake.  If true, this seems somewhat harsh, but it is important that MLCA Members be aware that the relevant Transport Canada safety regulation (described below) is being enforced on Ontario lakes.

Transport Canada, like the United States Coast Guard, classifies Stand Up Paddleboards as human powered vessels when they are being used for navigation.  When being used within the surf zone for surfing activities these requirements are not in force.  When undertaking a trip or circuit such as a group crossing or solo outing, this is considered navigation.

As human powered vessels, Stand Up Paddleboards are subject to all carriage requirements, including lifejackets.  There must be one Canadian approved lifejacket or personal floatation device available on board and available for immediate use.  There are many PFD options available for ease of use, such as waist-pack inflatables (a popular choice among competitive rowers, who are also short on space and require a broad range of movement) or low profile paddling vests.

While we have received many requests for the consideration of a leash in lieu of a PFD, Transport Canada does not recognize the leash/paddleboard combination as a floatation device.  The department has received many inquiries from Stand Up Paddleboarders regarding Section 4 (Substitute Safety Equipment) of the Small Vessel Regulations.  This part is intended to provide like-to-like exemptions, for example for police marine units to make use of tactical PFDs, or for small commercial charter vessels to carry high buoyancy PFDs in place of small vessel lifejackets.

Transport Canada supports leash use, but not as an alternative to a lifejacket or personal floatation device.

Boats and PWD's travelling at speed too close to the shoreline

In response to residents' concerns about lake safety, the Manitouwabing Lake Community Association (MLCA), in cooperation with The Township of McKellar, installed Transport Canada 10/30 signage on Lake Manitouwabing and McKellar Lake in May 2010. Signage reminding boaters that it is illegal to exceed a speed of 10 kilometers per hour within 30 metres of the shoreline has been placed by the Township at all municipal boat ramps and by the MLCA at private marinas and select problem areas around the lakes.

There are few exceptions to the regulation. One, which is relevant to our lakes, permits a vessel towing a person on water skis, a wake board or other similar equipment, to exceed the speed limit when taking off on a line perpendicular to the shore, but the vessel is not permitted to run parallel to the shoreline at a speed exceeding 10 kilometers per hour until it is at least 30 metres out into the lake.

Despite the requirement that all boaters be licensed, it appears that some are not well informed about the 10/30 law. With this reminder and 10/30 signage in place, MLCA and The Township of McKellar are confident that most boaters will voluntarily comply to ensure a safe boating and swimming environment on the lakes and their narrow waterways. To ensure compliance, the OPP has been asked to step up policing of the lakes and the few who may not value their own safety or that of others will face the prospect of a $100,000 fine or one year in jail.

Several residents, whose properties are adjacent to narrow waterways or where speeding is particularly hazardous, have generously volunteered to purchase and post signage on their properties. Others who are experiencing serious safety problems close to the shoreline should contact their local MLCA representative.  His or her name may be found under "Contact Us" on this website.  Thank you for respecting the Transport Canada 10/30 regulation and helping to preserve a safe, clean, natural environment for all to enjoy.

Speed Limit Signage and Private Aids to Navigation

As part of an ongoing effort to address lake safety issues, the MLCA will continue to dialogue with The Township of McKellar and Transport Canada on the feasibility of placing official TC Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations (VORR) speed limit signage on narrow channels and approved Private Aids to Navigation marker buoys to indicate the presence of submerged rocks, shoals, etc., on the lakes of McKellar.

The Use of Private Buoys

(Excerpt of an article that appeared in The Muskoka Sun on February 26, 2008)

As we kayak or cruise the waters of Muskoka lakes and rivers, we see an increasing number of private buoys. A private buoy is a buoy that is not owned by a federal, provincial or municipal agency.

We are seeing more and more buoys outlining areas offshore or off someone's docks and many of these buoys are not legal. Many new-to-Muskoka property owners seem to think that they also own the water in front of their cottage. They may own the shoreline and they may even own a water lot under water, but the water is free for the public to enjoy.

Boaters may often see rafts tethered far out from shore . . . let's hope they see them. Transport Canada's policy requires that the sides of such rafts must be painted white and marked with orange or red reflectors on all four corners. A raft may not be more than 75 feet offshore and may have to be marked with a white light. Rafts and marked-off swimming areas require approval by Transport Canada pursuant to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA).

The NWPA is a federal law designed to protect the public right of navigation. It ensures that works constructed in navigable waterways are reviewed and regulated to minimize the overall impact on navigation.

It is permissible for private individuals, organizations, corporations or other groups to establish aids to navigation for their own use. Such aids to navigation are known as "private aids."  The rules are laid out in "Private Aids to Navigation" .

Such aids must conform to both the Private Buoy Regulations and, in cases where boating is restricted, the Boating Restriction Regulations, and the placement of these aids must not create a hazard or obstruction to normal navigation.

In the event of an accident involving a private aid to navigation, the person(s) owning that aid may be held liable for any resulting damages. Liability insurance may be worth considering, over and above any other preventative action that is taken.

Canada Shipping Act Private Buoy Regulations SOR/99-335

These regulations apply to every private buoy other than private buoys used to mark fishing gear.

  • No person shall place in any Canadian waters a private buoy that interferes with or is likely to interfere with the navigation of any vessel, or that misleads or is likely to mislead the operation of any vessel.
  • No person shall place a private buoy in any Canadian waters unless:

(a) the part of the buoy that shows above the surface of the water is at least 15.25 centimeters wide and at least 30.5 centimeters high;

(b) the buoy displays, on opposite sides, the capital letters "PRIV" that are i) as large as is practical for the buoy; and ii) white when the background colour is red, green or black; or iii) black when the background colour is white or yellow;

(c) the buoy displays, in a conspicuous location and in a permanent and legible manner, the name, address and telephone number of its owner.

Rules of the ramp - Overlapping water regulations leave wakeboarding conundrum  By Amy Johnston (The Muskoka Sun, June 26, 2008)

Wakeboarding is not just a water sport, but the water sport of Muskoka. And in a sport that emphasizes more than gliding across the water, tricks are very important, often becoming a status symbol for the rider. A natural progression, for the more advanced rider, is the use of ramps. To maintain the safety of all involved, and peace of mind for the other inhabitants of the lake, regulations are put in place for both the wakeboarding boat and any additional equipment, such as ramps.

Tina Bouchard, spokesperson for Transport Canada, says that everyone has an obligation to follow the safe boating rules and must be prepared to share the waterways with others.

It seems, however, that the regulations, especially in regards to wakeboarding equipment, are not always clear. Last summer, a Muskoka cottager became concerned when a problem with his neighbour's wakeboard ramp highlighted a contradiction between overlapping water regulations.

His neighbour had set out a wakeboard ramp in front of his cottage and was informed by the OPP that the ramp could only be installed if it was within 30 metres of the shore. This posed a second problem, however, because the legal boat speed within 30 metres of the shoreline is 9 km/h, not fast enough to use the ramp.

Scott Duke, the camp director of Base Camp (a wakeboarding/wakeskating facility where people of all skill levels and ages can practice and enjoy wakeboarding), and Ryan Bush, owner of Bush's Sports Centre (a centre that sells equipment and provides lessons for wakeboarding and water skiing), both say that having a ramp on any public water surface depends on having courtesy for surrounding neighbours.

"Exact same thing as anything on the waterfront. Everyone's sharing space and water," says Duke, "and if the surrounding cottagers don't want them, they have the power to have them taken away."

According to Duke, if people are set on having their own ramps, a common practice is to take the ramp out onto the lake when it's in use and then return it to the dock when they've finished.

Darcy Jebb, from the Marine Patrol in Bracebridge confirms the practice mentioned by Duke, but its legality is still in question. "It's something that would be dealt with by the coast guard. It's regulated, but we don't get into it much," says Jebb, adding a caution: "If someone was to hit a ramp being used out on the lake, they could sue the owner because it's not supposed to be there . . . anything you put in the water you're responsible for."

Permanent ramps are more preferable than their temporary counterparts, however, because they don't move when the wake hits them, but because of their permanence, they are more difficult to acquire.

"As far as the laws go, you can't have rails on the lake unless you get a permit, just as you would for a dock," says Duke. The permit he's referring to is given by the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which states that any work built or placed in, on or over, under, through or across any navigable waters must have approval from the Minister of Transport.

Jebb also confirms the 10 km/h speed limit within 30 metres of the shoreline and that most anything within that distance is fine. "Unless it's deemed a navigational hazard, we leave it alone."

The Marine Patrol does receive complaints regarding wakeboarders, mostly pertaining to their speed. According to Jebb, "People just aren't using their common sense and want to use the smaller bays instead of the middle of lakes . . . cottage and property owners are upset about the noise and the wake from the boats."

Hence the benefit of public water sports facilities, such as Base Camp and Bush's, which, for a small fee, provide an outlet for the avid wakeboarder who needs a spot to practice tricks without bothering anyone. Plus, it saves them some money, as, according to Duke, homemade ramps can cost up to $5,000.

This, in turn, raises the question as to how the facilities which provide wakeboarding lessons manage the speed/shoreline conundrum. The answer: private water space.

Duke has been able to secure a private, four acre slider lake for his camp. The lake is set up with various pieces of equipment to allow riders to have the fun and training they're promised without disturbing anyone. "We've had no problems," he says, "It's fairly deep in the woods and not bothering anyone."

Bush's also has a private lake for the wakeboarders with a range of ramps. "We just go with the times and build what people want," says Bush.

Next time you head out wakeboarding, to reduce hassles and increase fun, remember the golden rule of courtesy for your neighbours. And as for ramps, the safer bet may be to stick to a facility equipped with the latest in ramps and rails . . . and where the legal issues won't be a problem.

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