Boating in Canada Archive

Bill S-26

Sen. Mira Spivak
Bill S-26 would allow communities to restrict Personal Watercraft (PWC)
June 2001

Legislation to help people deal with PWCs

In early May, Manitoba Senator Mira Spivak introduced legislation -- Bill S-26 -- to help municipalities and cottage associations deal with safety, pollution and noise problems of personal watercraft. It is now before the Senate transportation committee.

Simply put, the bill would require the federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to restrict PWCs on bodies of water wherever local authorities find they cause undue problems.

A municipal council or cottage association would send the Minister a resolution -- along with evidence of community consultation -- designating the specific area or areas where PWCs should be restricted. The Minister would put the resolution into law.

Restrictions could take the form of limiting hours of operation or setting speed limits. Bans on small lakes, or on portions of large bodies of water, would also be possible wherever there is an inordinate threat to safety, the environment or the peaceful enjoyment of lakes, rivers or coastal waters.

The bill, now before the Senate, is needed because only the federal government has the legal right to restrict navigation. Municipalities have banned PWCs on a handful of lakes across the country, but these local laws could be challenged in court as unconstitutional.

The bill follows the model of one of those municipalities, the District of Saanich on Vancouver Island. There a municipal noise by-law bans PWCs from Prospect Lake, a small, shallow lake surrounded by homes. Nearby on the larger Elk Lake, PWCs are permitted -- even rented to people who enjoy the sport.

In short, the bill offers a compromise between heavy-handed laws that ban PWCs everywhere and the unlimited access that has cost lives, caused injuries, excessive pollution in small lakes, threatened wildlife and disturbed the peaceful enjoyment of summer.

What do you think of Bill S-26? Send your opinion to decision-makers in Ottawa. Please copy Senator Spivak on any messages sent to others so that we can keep a tally of support. (You may use the text in the petitions to e-mail your support of Bill S-26.)

Senator Mira Spivak:
Phone Toll-free: 1-800-267-7362
Phone in Ottawa: 613-990-9263
Fax: 613-943-7776
Mail: (No postage required)

Senator Mira Spivak
Room 240 East Block
Parliament Hill
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A4

Fisheries Minister Herb Dhaliwal:

Environment Minister David Anderson:

Senator Lise Bacon, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee:


Help others who are not linked to e-mail to register their support by printing and circulating the attached mail-in, postage free petitions. They will be introduced in the Senate and the House of Commons when Parliament meets again in the fall. Please ask people to sign both copies and mail them before September.

  1. Petition to the Senate
  2. Petition to the House of Commons

November 2000:

Senator Mira Spivak will introduce legislation in the next session of Parliament to give communities a way to deal with safety threats, noise, pollution and other hazards of personal watercraft.

Her private member's bill is in response to Canadians in communities nationwide who say that the popular thrill craft take the pleasure out of summer for cottagers, swimmers, canoeists and other boaters, and often pose a safety threat or undue harm to the environment.

There are an estimated 80,000 PWCs in Canada. They are involved in approximately half of all complaints to marine authorities at local and provincial levels. When a detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police in Northern Ontario surveyed residents last summer it found that more than one-quarter of them said PWCs are becoming a major concern.


The majority of complaints involve reckless driving, speed and the proximity to others when the drivers indulge in "wake jumping." Because PWCs are designed to operate in shallow water, they are often driven close to shore where they become hazardous to swimmers, sailboarders and others.

In some cases, the consequences have been tragic. People in Quebec and Manitoba have died in collisions involving PWCs in recent years. Lives were threatened in Ontario last summer; saved only by quick action or costly searches. In Newfoundland and elsewhere, pilots of floatplanes are worried about colliding with PWCs that dart in front of them.

In 1998, the rate of water-related deaths was considerably higher for PWCs than for powerboats and more than double the rate for canoes or small sailboats.

The Canadian Coast Guard has tried to address safety concerns by prohibiting anyone under 16 from driving a PWC and requiring proof of boating competency. Despite the new regulations, some problems persist.


Noise is also a major annoyance to cottagers and others who say PWCs disrupt their peaceful enjoyment of lakes and rivers. The chain-saw whine of a PWC at 85 decibels is in the range of the noise of a busy street. Some cottagers refer to them as "buzz-bombs."


The engines of existing PWCs discharge about one-third of their fuel unburned into the water and air, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agency estimates that pollution generated by a 100 horsepower PWC in seven hours equals the pollution produced by a 1998 car over the course of 139,000 miles.

PWC manufacturers signed a voluntary agreement in January, 2000 to redesign their engines to reduce their pollution. In the near future, the drop will likely be modest. A 50 per cent reduction is not expected until 2020.

By entering sheltered coves or other areas PWCs harm wildlife. They are considered the greatest current threat to breeding loon populations and are also blamed for interfering with marine wildlife, nesting birds and spawning salmon.


Many communities would like to ban the noisy "thrill craft" completely. Others would settle for limited hours of operation or limit the PWCs to particular areas in which they would be allowed to operate. However, under the Constitution Act, 1867, the federal Parliament has exclusive jurisdiction over navigation and shipping, no matter who owns the land underneath the water.

In 1994, the Canadian Coast Guard designed a way to give communities a means to restrict the use of PWCs. While not permitting outright bans, it would have allowed communities to designate prohibited times and periods of the year or set speed limits. The community of Lac aux Quenouilles in Quebec, using the Coast Guard's proposed boating restriction regulation, would have banned PWCs year-round between 1:30 p.m. and 4: 30 p.m. and set maximum speed limits of 5, 10, and 55 km/hr depending on the area of the lake. But under industry pressure, the federal Cabinet refused to approve the restrictions.

In frustration, several Canadian municipalities have gone ahead with municipal by-laws. In 1996, the Municipality of Saanich in British Columbia passed a noise by-law prohibiting anyone from making a noise while operating a PWC on Prospect Lake, a small lake on Vancouver Island surrounded by private land. In 1998, the City of St. John's passed a by-law prohibiting PWCs on Healey's Pond, a body of water used by swimmers and triathletes for training. Neither has been legally challenged, although it is uncertain whether municipal by-laws would stand up in court.

In Quebec, a by-law under the Quebec Municipal Code to prohibit all types of motorboats was struck down by the Quebec Court of Appeal. The court ruled that navigation can only be regulated by Parliament.

Given existing law and Cabinet´s refusal to let communities have PWC-specific restrictions, it is not surprising that communities trying to deal with problems have had difficulty finding a way.


The bill being developed proposes to give elected local authorities an effective means to place reasonable restrictions on the use of personal watercraft on lakes, rivers, or portions of coastal waters, while respecting the Constitution.

This scheme would not usurp federal authority in the regulation of navigation and watercraft, but it would allow communities an avenue by which they could address the concerns of their citizens. It has the advantage that local governments would not make the request without public consultation, and that the federal government would be assured that it was responding to the wishes of the local public.

During the drafting phase of the bill, wide public input is being sought from municipalities, cottage community associations, boating organizations, and the general public, to ensure concerned people can express their views and that the bill will enable them to deal with an issue affecting their quality of life.

For more information or to express your opinion, contact the Office of Senator Mira Spivak.

With your support and effort, we can help communities solve their problems with personal watercraft. Through a private member´s bill, communities can have the means to place reasonable restrictions on the use of PWCs.

We need to change the status quo, in the interests of everyone's safety, peaceful enjoyment and protection of the environment.

PWCs account for one in every four watercraft sold in Canada, according to a 1996 report prepared for the Canadian Coast Guard. Yet, research shows that PWCs are the cause of approximately half of all complaints to marine authorities. The rise in PWC's popularity has been matched by demands for restrictions on their use, which the federal government has the constitutional power to address.

Much of the recent concern has been over safety. In 1999, the Canadian Coast Guard introduced regulations that restrict operator age and require users to show boater competency. These new regulations have dealt, in part, with safety issues.

The additional concerns of noise, nuisance levels and damage to the environment remain, and are being addressed by this office, in the form of a private member´s bill.

Senator Spivak, a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Transportation, will introduce the bill when Parliament is recalled after the election.

Her bill proposes to give elected local authorities the effective means to place reasonable restrictions on the use of personal watercraft on lakes, rivers or portions of coastal waters, while respecting the Constitution.

The bill will require the federal government to put in place those restrictions requested by elected local councils unless important navigational concerns dictate otherwise. It will require federal listing of those restricted waters, the specific restrictions on PWC use that apply and provisions for posting and other forms of notice.

For this bill to succeed, we need your support. We are compiling a national list of supporters.

Please send us a fax, e-mail or hand written letter of support in principle for the bill. Please tell elected officials that you would like to see federal legislation passed. Contact your Member of Parliament, and provincial and municipal representatives. Send copies of your correspondence with them to this office by e-mail, fax or postage-free mail. The enclosed background paper gives points to consider in sending your messages.

Senator Spivak, and your positive action, can bring about legislation to help solve PWC problems that exist across the country.

The full legal text of Bill S-26 is available on the Parliamentiary Web site: See "Bills" under Senate, then "Other Bills" then Bill S-26. All copy was provided from the Office of Senator Mira Spivak for publication on Boating in Canada

This information is provided as a public service to the office of Senator Spivak. It does not represent the opinion of anyone at "Boating in Canada".

Boating News

Top of Page