Mandatory Safety Equipment in Canada

This summary of federal regulations is provided as a convenience ONLY. It is highly recommended to download a copy of the "Safe Boating Guide" for all equipment requirements. Government Links

Transport Canada has new options for lighter PFDs and electronic flares. Let's Talk Transportation: Pleasure Craft Safety

The Canadian Small Vessel Regulations have mandated minimum equipment on board a vessel in Canada, from small rowboats to large cruisers. You can be charged up to $200 for each safety item you don't have on board!

The required equipment must be carried on board, be in good working order, maintained according to the manufacturer's instructions, and available immediately in case of emergency.

Distress Signals:
Most Canadian pleasure craft over 6 metres are currently require some pyrotechnic flares. Pyrotechnic flares must be less than 4 years old, but the required number is reduced by half if using certain communication equipment. Electronic visual distress signal devices (eVDSD) can be used instead of some pyrotechnic flares. (flares)

A 20-year study by the Canadian Red Cross found that 50% of boating deaths could have been prevented simply by wearing a life jacket.

Paddleboat, Watercycle, Stand-Up Paddleboard, Sealed-Hull Sit-On-Top Kayak

If everyone on board a paddleboat, a watercycle, a stand-up paddleboard or a sealed-hull, sit-on-top kayak is wearing a PFD or lifejacket, you only need to carry a sound-signalling device (whistle); and if using after sunset or in poor visibility, you also need a watertight flashlight. (May 2018)
Inflatable lifejackets may not work unless maintained regularly. Inflatable PFDs are currently only approved for people 16 years and older, and should not be used by non-swimmers. (Proposed changes to regulations)

Rowboat, canoe, kayak up to 6 metres in length (19'8")

Over 6 metres - add:

Personal Watercraft PWC

If everyone is wearing a lifejacket/PFD, you are only required to carry the first 5 items.
PWC sales increased 3.9% in 2014 in Canada ? to 6,865. (NMMA 2014 Canadian Recreational Boating Statisical Abstract)

Up to 6 metres in length (19'8")

6 - 9 metres in length (19'8"-29'6")

Boarding ladder

9 - 12 metres in length (29'6"-39'4")

Life buoy

12 - 24 metres in length (39'4"-78'9")


More than 24 m in length (more than 78'9")


Canadian Red Cross studies show that nearly 90% of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket or PFD. Drowning is one of the leading causes of accidental death for Canadians under 44, and the leading cause of preventable death among toddlers. Drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death among Ontario children under five (statistics).

Equipment Notes

Equipment Details are in the "Safe Boating Guide".

Life jackets and PFDs (personal floatation devices) must be Canadian government approved and properly sized for each person on board. (Red Cross video - using life jackets)

Inflatable lifejackets may not work unless maintained regularly, and should not be used by non-swimmers. Inflatable PFDs are currently only approved for people 16 years and older. (Proposed changes to regulations)

Anchor "rode" can be rope, cable or chain.

Manual pumps require enough hose to pump water overboard, but are not required for a self-bailing sealed hull sailboat that cannot contain enough water to make the vessel capsize or a multi-hull vessel that has subdivided multiple-sealed hull construction.

Reboarding devices are usually a ladder and are not required if the boat's freeboard (distance from water to top edge of the hull) is less than 0.5 metres (1'8").

Navigation lights must comply with Collision Regulations, and are not required on some boat types if operated during daylight in good visibility.

Magnetic compass is not required on boats 8 m or less and within sight of navigation marks.

Head: In most provinces in Canada, if you have a head on board, it must be permanently installed in the boat and equipped for proper pump out (this includes porta-potties).

Horseshoe buoy and Rescue Stick(tm) do NOT fulfil Canadian safety requirements, but certainly can be useful in an emergency.

Flares must be Canadian approved and not beyond the expiry date - 4 years from the date of manufacture, which is printed on the label. Recent changes permit the number of distress signals to be reduced by half if the craft has a two-way radio or cellphone. You must Dispose of flares safely if they become outdated.

Type of Flares:
Type A: Parachute flares (burns for at least 40 seconds)
Type B: Multi-Star flares (burns 4 to 5 seconds).
Type C: Hand held flares.
Type D: Hand held or buoyant smoke flare (day use only).

All these regulations are for minimum equipment on board a vessel. There are specific equipment requirements for guided (paddling) excursions for first aid kits and navigation equipment. (Government Links: Canada Shipping Act)

You are encouraged to add equipment to your boat for additional safety. For example: a compass, spotlight, first aid kit, medical kit, tool kit, 7x50 binoculars, chain added to anchor line, extra anchors, 3A-40BC fire extinguishers, battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors, life-raft, jack lines, safety harness, hand holds, 'man overboard pole', VHF radio, depth sounder, knotmeter, GPS, etc. Even if you use electronic navigation, you should carry paper charts as backup. (Check out our list of navigation tools and techniques and E-charts.)

A radar reflector should be 4 m (13') or more above the water (if possible) when operating in ship channels or offshore. Ships just can't see a pleasure boat on their radar.