Responsible Boating Tips

When summertime comes, there’s nothing better than loading up your boat and heading for open waters. However, it’s vital that you adhere to both the boating regulations of the area and the common safe boating practices. It’s also wise to follow boating etiquette to make sure you’re encouraging the best and friendliest recreational experience.

Whether you’re new to boating in the area or just need a little refresher, we can help. Take a look at our responsible boating guide for Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. We’ll cover the laws and regulations enforced, good safety standards, and of course, boating etiquette both on and off the water.

Laws and Regulations

As with any type of motor vehicle, there are certain boating laws designed to maximize the safety of everyone on the water. These laws apply primarily to motorized craft, including electric trolling motors.

Proof of Competency

In Canada, marine safety is a top priority. To ensure people aren’t placed at increased risk while on the water, boaters operating a motorized craft are required to have and carry proof of competency. Typically, this refers to a Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOP), which is granted after the completion of a boating safety course.

However, there are other documents that may count as proof of competency as well. This includes boating certificates extended by the Department of Transport or a completed safety checklist (for rented boats only).

Age Restrictions

Responsible boating also means adhering to the power restrictions placed on individuals based on age. For example, no children under the age of 16 are allowed to operate a personal watercraft, such as a jet ski.

Additionally, those under the age of 12 cannot operate a craft with more than 10 horsepower without direct supervision. Similarly, children between the ages of 12 and 16 cannot operate a craft over 40 horsepower without direct supervision.

Pleasure Craft License

When people think of a pleasure craft license, they often confuse it with the PCOP from above. However, this license refers to the actual watercraft, rather than the operator.

The license numbers must be placed on the side of the boat to help law enforcement and/or search and rescue operators identify individual vessels. You are also required to carry a copy of your license on board at all times.

Life Jackets

While you don’t always have to wear your life jacket on board, each pleasure craft is required to carry a certain number on board at all times. Typically, there needs to be one life jacket per passenger. This is one of the most common and practical responsible boating practices.

Make sure you account for body types and sizes. For example, you need to have child-sized life jackets for all children on board. Likewise, a child-sized life jacket will be useless for a 200-pound man.

Towing and Spotters

The boating rules in Ontario also specify that a spotter must be posted anytime you’re towing anyone behind the boat. This applies to inner tubes, water skis, wakeboards, and more.

This is vital for ensuring the safety of those being towed. The spotter can signal the boat operator to slow down, stop, turn around, etc.

Safe Boating Practices

It’s important to understand that responsible boating doesn’t just mean following the written regulations. It also means adhering to safe boating practices that aren’t always covered by local laws.

Life Jacket Usage

As noted above, Canadian boating regulations dictate that your craft must contain a life jacket for each passenger. However, how you choose to use those life jackets are up to you. You don’t have to wear one the entire time you’re on the water.

However, we strongly encourage prioritizing safety, especially of minors on the boat. Children should be wearing life jackets at all times.

Impaired Boating

Throughout Canada, the maximum legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for fully licensed drivers on land or water is to be under 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 milliliters of blood, or 0.08. Driving with a BAC of 0.08 or over is a criminal offense and the penalties are severe.
In Ontario, you could also face serious consequences if your BAC is between 0.05 and 0.08. This is commonly referred to as the “warn range.” If police determine that you are driving while impaired by alcohol, drugs, including cannabis, prescription, and/or over-the-counter medications, you will face severe consequences and criminal charges.


Responsible boating also means being aware of the inherent risks of being out on the water. This includes simple things like avoiding sunburns as well as understanding the risk of cold water temperatures. Staying out in cold water for too long can be incredibly dangerous.

Being prepared also means having proper boat safety equipment. This includes:

  • Life jackets
  • Buoyant heaving lines
  • Reboarding device
  • Flashlight
  • Flares
  • Manual paddling device
  • Anchor
  • And more

The safety devices required depend on the type of vessel. Make sure you’re fully aware of what’s required for your boat before heading out onto the water.

Boater Etiquette

Finally, there are certain unwritten rules about proper etiquette that is desired amongst boaters. While you are by no means obligated to adhere to these standards, doing so encourages a friendly, helpful environment.

Boater Assistance

Regardless of what type of boat you have or what you like doing in it, all boaters should look out for one another on and off the water. This could be anything from helping guide someone into a dock to offering assistance in an emergency situation.

Respectful and Responsible Operation While Underway

Additionally, responsible boating implies being respectful to everyone on the water. For example, you shouldn’t create massive waves by speeding past others, whether they’re participating in water sports or sitting in one spot fishing.

This also means following the same basic “rules of the road” you would adhere to while driving your car.

Marina Etiquette

Marina docking spots are often reserved. Make sure you aren’t taking other people’s reserved spots.

Additionally, don’t swim or allow your children to swim at the marina where heavy boat traffic could lead to dangerous situations. Finally, be sure to keep your docking area tidy and clean up after yourself.

Ramps and Fuel Docks

When using ramps of fuel docks, remember, it’s first come first serve. Follow the same etiquette you would anywhere else and wait your turn in line.

Also, remember that there are people behind you. Get your boat loaded up onto your trailer and get out of the way so others can do the same. Ramps and fuel docks are not the places to socialize or linger.

Looking for More Information on Responsible Boating?

Because people like you do your part to ensure the safety and happiness of other boaters by practicing responsible boating habits, we feel inspired to do the same. At Clarks Marina, our goal is to provide the best boating experience for you and your family. We offer a myriad of services including engine tune-ups and boat cleaning.

Contact us today to learn more about what we can do for you. We look forward to seeing you out on the water!