8 boating safety tips to help you stay safe on the water

Canada is full of lakes, rivers, streams and oceans. It’s finally time to take your boat out of storage and get on the water! Whether you're sailing with family, friends or solo, boating allows you to create unforgettable memories. However, regardless of your experience at the helm, it is important to navigate the open waters safely. Here are 8 boating safety tips to follow before you set sail!
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1. Bring your Pleasure Craft Operator Card

Like a driver's licence, you must have your boating licence or PCOC (Pleasure Craft Operator Card) with you every time you take a boating trip. A PCOC is mandatory for all motorized personal watercraft operators and is valid for life! All you need to do is pass a boating safety test with one of Transport Canada's accredited suppliers. The PCOC acts as proof of competence. It "shows you have a basic understanding of how to operate your boat safely and know what to do in an emergency". [1]

2. Take a boating safety course

Taking a boating safety course is not mandatory, but it is strongly recommended before taking the PCOC test. You will review boating safety rules, such as: the laws and regulations of the different bodies of water, the equipment required on board the boat, the Canadian Aids to Navigation system and the development of an emergency response plan. Perhaps you already have your PCOC and just want to refresh your memory with some boating safety tips and a review of boating rules? Go for it! You can never be too safe.

3. Be aware of boating safety rules and emergency procedures

If boating safety rules are not fresh in your memory, keep Transport Canada's Safe Boating Guide in your boat or saved on your cell phone. However, since most boating accidents and emergencies require an instant reaction, it is important to know:

  • How to use a marine radio, the channels and jargon
  • How to rescue a person who has fallen into the water
  • How to survive in cold water in case of a shipwreck or if the boat capsizes
  • How to act in case of fire on the boat

Knowing how to react in these precarious situations can save the lives of you and your passengers.

4. Make a trip itinerary, bring a nautical chart and check the weather conditions

Boating safety sometimes comes down to common sense! It's simply a matter of applying all your good driving habits to your boating. Be sure to share your location with a loved one or local marina staff, as well as your trip itinerary and any useful information about your boat. You can make a complete trip plan by completing this Transport Canada form.

Bring a nautical chart and have a detailed picture of the nautical area in which you are sailing. Know the depth of the water and take the time to locate the buoys and identify any landmarks that will allow you to navigate more easily. After all, there are no clear roads or dotted lines to direct you! Having a map could help to prevent a boat accident or collision with an object or another boat.

Finally, find out about the weather conditions in the area where you’re planning your trip. What are the forecasts in this region? Just because the weather is nice in the morning doesn't mean there won't be a sudden thunderstorm in the afternoon. Watch for signs of disturbance, such as clouds, wind and sudden drop in the temperatures. If you ever encounter these types of sailing conditions, get out of the water and take cover. Lead by example by adopting safe boating practices.

5. Make sure you have all the safety equipment required for your boat

Depending on the type or size of your boat, the safety equipment required to have on board may vary. Of course, you can be sure that life jackets are mandatory regardless of the type of boat! Make sure all your safety gear is ready to be used in an emergency, and your first aid kit is well stocked. Before you leave, check your fuel level, battery charge, engine oil and coolant levels. Also remember to bring food and water, a flashlight and spare batteries and signal equipment like distress flares in case of incidents while sailing. For a complete pre departure checklist, consult Transport Canada's Safe Boating Guide.

6. Wear life jackets

You and your passengers must be as ready as the boat! Make sure you can be seen by the other boats and that they are also able to see you. Wear sunglasses that eliminate glare and dress accordingly. The Office of Boating Safety states that you must have an approved life jacket or personal flotation device (PFDs) for each person on board. Make sure you have different sizes available for your guests so that all can be safe. A life jacket is most effective when worn tightly and zipped, whether for an adult or a child. Learn more about choosing life jackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs).

As a boat owner, you are responsible for your passengers. Everyone on board must wear a life jacket, but it’s also important to know how to swim. If you haven't already, learn to swim before you go on the water. Organizations like the Canadian Red Cross or your local pool offer swimming lessons for all ages and levels. If you already know how to swim, take the opportunity to perfect your technique!

7. Avoid dangerous behaviour

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of boating accidents, whether you're in a motorboat or a paddle boat such as a canoe or kayak.  The effects of alcohol can be amplified by the heat, wind and movement of the boat and could hinder your judgment or slow your reactions in an emergency. Driving a boat intoxicated by alcohol or drugs is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. You can always have a cocktail once back on dry land, if you don't have to drive.

As for the rest, use your common sense and have fun! Do not jump from one boat to another, do not sail too close to swimmers and pay attention to the wake of your boat in busy areas. Respect lifebuoys and navigation instructions, as they have been set up for your own boating safety. Follow the rules, wear a life jacket, go at a safe speed and listen to your judgment.

8. Insure your boat

Don't forget to insure your boat! Boat insurance can protect you and your boat in the event of an accident, but could also be useful in case of lawsuits or claims.* An Intact Insurance representative or broker can assist you in finding the coverage that best suits your boat and lifestyle. Get a boat insurance quote now and be covered when you set sail!


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 *Certain conditions, limitations and exclusions apply to all our offers. Please see intact.ca for more details. These offers are subject to change without notice. The information contained in this website is provided for informational purposes only. Your insurance contract prevails at all times; Please see it for a full discussion of protections and exclusions.