The summer season is approaching. Here are top tips for boating safety in Ontario

May 17, 2024

Summer is the perfect time for swimmers, boaters, and outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy the province’s pristine waterways. Ontarians will soon be heading to getaway hotspots across the province such as Georgian Bay, the Muskokas and the Haliburton Highlands to enjoy their cottages and rev up their pleasure craft. That’s why it’s also a time to remember that boating safety on these waters is crucial for preventing accidents and personal injury.

The reality is that while many of us operate motor vehicles nearly every day, our experience with watercraft is far more limited, increasing the likelihood of boating accidents. Being prepared and vigilant can help reduce the risk of injury and even liability resulting in litigation if you’re deemed to be at fault after an incident on the water.

Here are some actionable tips to stay safe while navigating Ontario’s beautiful—but often unpredictable—lakes and rivers this summer.

Boat safety awareness: Common causes of boating accidents

According to data from the Drowning Prevention Research Centre Canada, 21 per cent of drowning cases in Ontario occur while boating. Understanding what commonly leads to boating accidents is the first step to prevention. Knowing these risks, boaters can take proactive steps to minimize dangers and enhance safety for everyone aboard their watercraft:

  • Stormy weather: Weather plays a critical role in boating safety. Unpredictable storms, high winds, and rough waters are common causes of accidents on the water—especially on the Great Lakes or larger bodies of water such as Georgian Bay. Inclement conditions can cause vessels to capsize or collide with obstacles or other vessels. All boaters need to check weather conditions thoroughly and pay attention to weather warnings before embarking from the dock
  • Improper boat operation: A significant number of boating accidents can be attributed to operator negligence. In cases where an operator lacks a valid boating license, establishing liability becomes more straightforward in legal proceedings. Ensuring all operators are properly certified and aware of their responsibilities is not only a legal requirement, but can drastically reduce legal risk
  • Inadequate safety training: Comprehensive safety training and education is vital for responding to emergencies on the water—and can also dramatically decrease the likelihood of accidents and injuries happening in the first place
  • Impairment: It may be tempting to crack a few beers while relaxing on your boat on a hot summer’s day, but as with driving a motor vehicle, operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is illegal. Impaired vessel operation also significantly increases the risk of an accident or personal injury. Be aware that the repercussions of a DUI charge for operating a boat are as severe as those for operating a motor vehicle—and Ontario Provincial Police actively patrol the province’s waterways during the boating season
  • Poorly Maintained Equipment or Vessel: Boat upkeep is paramount for safe operation. Neglecting regular maintenance can lead to mechanical failures that may result in accidents. Owners are responsible for ensuring their vessels are up to safety standards and are adequately maintained

By being aware of these common causes and taking proactive measures to address them, boaters can significantly enhance safety on the water, making every journey safer and more enjoyable for themselves and their loved ones.

What to do if you’re involved in a boating accident

Your immediate actions after a boating accident can significantly impact the safety of passengers and the outcome of any potential legal proceedings. After a collision or other incident, ensure everyone’s safety by checking for injuries and making sure all passengers are wearing a life jacket. Turn off the boat’s engine if it’s still running and assess whether the vessel is at risk of sinking or catching fire. If another vessel is involved, you’re legally obligated to assist, as long as it doesn’t put your safety (or that of your passengers) at risk. A marine radio should be used to alert the authorities (use channel 16 for emergency communication). You should not rely on a cell phone, as cottage country areas can have spotty service.

You’ll always want to have these items on board in case of an emergency and ensure everyone on the boat is aware of their location:

  • Life jackets
  • A buoyant heaving line
  • A paddle or anchor
  • Working flares (which expire every four years)

While your primary focus should be safety, collecting information for insurance claims or potential litigation is important once you’ve secured the boat and the safety of all passengers aboard. Find out:

  • The names, addresses, contact details, and vessel identification numbers of all boat operators involved in the incident
  • The insurance companies and the policy numbers for all parties involved, focusing on those operating the vessels
  • The contact details and names of any potential witness to the accident

If possible, capture numerous photos and video of the accident scene, including the damage incurred and the positions of the boats. Document the specific location of the accident, visibly damaged areas, and any personal injuries sustained by passengers or individuals involved.

How to report a boating accident

Reporting a boating accident promptly is crucial, especially in cases with significant property damage (more than $5,000), injury, or death. Call 911 or use a marine radio to broadcast a distress signal in an emergency. For non-emergencies, report the incident to the nearest marina or boating authority. Provide details of the accident, the extent of the damage and details of any injuries sustained by you, your passengers or other bystanders.

If a boating accident in Ontario results in serious injury, death, or significant property damage, you must report it to the police and your insurance company to ensure all legal and procedural responsibilities are met. If you’ve been injured due to someone else’s negligence, hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you manage the litigation process and obtain the compensation you deserve.

Remember, being responsible on the water is the first step to having a safe boating experience this summer. By following these guidelines and understanding the common causes and appropriate responses to accidents, you can enjoy Ontario’s beautiful waters with peace of mind, knowing you’re prepared to handle even the most challenging situations.

The Leone Murray LLP team

If you’ve been involved in a boating accident, experienced an injury or been served with a lawsuit as a boat operator, contact a member of the Leone Murray LLP team today.