Boating in Canada Archive

News Archive: Operator Regulations

December 1997

The following is a letter sent to me with interesting notes and insights about many of the federal proposals currently being considered, that will affect all boaters in Canada if passed into law.

2 Dec 1997
Ken Watson(

Hi Pat
I attended a meeting last night where the guest speaker was a coast guard official involved in the drafting of the new regulations for small boat safety.

There is a political push to have something in place for the 1998 boating season. From a bureaucratic end, this means that a decision has to be made by the Minister, by January 15, if regulations are to be put in place for summer, 1998. No decision has yet been made.

The current proposals vary. These are the recommendations from the national working group (who have been touring the country since 1995 getting input into the problems and solutions). Some of these will likely be implemented, others not.

Some of the likely scenarios include:

Minimum age for PWC operators (likely 16). The PWC makers have been doing massive political lobbying to get PWCs treated the same as any other boat, even though the in-water characteristics of a PWC are not those of a hulled boat (if you turn the helm of a regular boat and shut off the engine, the boat will turn. If you turn the helm of a PWC and shut off the engine, the PWC will continue in a straight line - and collide with the object that it was trying to avoid. In a panic situation most people drop power -- in a PWC this can be fatal). If PWCs were to be treated as just another type of regular boat, it would mean that any regulation regarding PWCs would have to apply to all boats. However with the increase in PWC accidents last year, and the public pressure to do something about the PWC problem, even the PWC manufacturers have had to agree that something has to be done. Training of PWC operators is another issue .. the rental industry is set against mandatory training, so it looks like a voluntary code will be put in place (the coast guard wants it mandatory, but politics may prevale).

The coast guard wanted mandatory training for everyone. This would mean that a new boater would have to take something like a 6 hour course and pass a 25 question multiple answer questionaire. Existing boaters could either prove safe boating knowledge (already passed a boating safety course), or simply take and pass the 25 question boating test to demonstrate boating knowledge.

However, as you point out on your web site, it looks like the current generation will not be nailed, just those currently under 16. So, in 50-60 years from now, all boaters will have taken a safe boating course. The coast guard doesn't like this, since it is the 25 to 55 year old male boater that is involved in 80% of all boating accidents and the proposed regs don't address this group.

Boat licensing will proceed in some fashion. The current proposal is to require a licence for ALL boats. The rational behind this is primarily boat identification. The new licence system would be a digital database system, linked to the OPPs vehicle identification database. This would make it easy for police to track stolen boats and to identify boats involved in various infractions, something that cannot be done now, even with currently licenced boats (whose registration sits in cardboard boxes in various Revenue Canada locations across Canada).

Estimated cost right now is $5 - $7 per boat, per year. It would be run by the private sector who have (or will) be asked to submit bids to do this work.

There were some attempts to tie this to safety. About half of all boating accidents occur in currently unlicenced boats. However I still fail to see any connection between licensing and boating safety. One weak link is the fact that if an overturned boat is found floating in the water, the owners of the boat can be identified .. however this is after the fact of the accident. Another safety link is that a boat in contravention of safety standards (lighting, etc.) can be identified by the licence number .. but this brings up the enforcement part of the equation .. something that is very weak right now (not enough manpower to do the enforcement of the regs).

The speaker at the talk said that there will likely be some compromise position put in place .. all boats would have to be licenced but unpowered boats might have a longer (4-5 year) licence renewal period than powered boats. Or licensing might be phased in.

The fee structure will be designed to make the licensing system self supporting. I'm not sure if they actually have the Finance Department's agreement to do this (for funds to go back to the licensing system rather than general revenue).

For Americans in Canadian waters, there would be something like a 45 day grace period before the boat would have to be licenced in Canada. This is consistent with many of the U.S. States that currently have boat licensing, they generally allow 45 days for Canadian vessels in their waters.

An option that was raised at some of the consultation meetings was to see if the Finance Department would agree to put gasoline taxes that boaters pay to keep their boats gassed up (estimated to be about 80 million dollars per year) back to boating safety programs/enforcement. Finance has said no -- these taxes go to pay for welfare, the health system, and all that other good stuff (I thought that is what we paid personal and corporate income tax for -- but hey, what do I know. :-)

Bottom line is that we should know by early 1998 what sort of system will be put in place for the next boating season.

All the best,


Thanks to Ken Watson, for sending these statistics. Ken is the creator of the Rideau Waterway site.

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