How to be a more respectful boater

As the summer boating season begins, many Muskokans may find their boating skills somewhat rusty. Before venturing out on to the water, we should all refresh ourselves on the rules of the road and how to be a more respectful boater.

Three of the most frequent complaints that the Muskoka Lakes Association and other cottage associations receive each summer are:

  1. Boaters going too quickly close to shore;
  2. Boaters intentionally making large waves; and
  3. Boats making too much noise.

Near Shore Speed Limits

On Lake Muskoka, Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph, the general near-shore speed limit is 9 km/h within 30 metres of shore. There are also narrow channels and narrow connecting rivers, such as the Little Joe River and the Indian River, where additional speed restrictions are applicable. On other lakes and rivers in Muskoka the near-shore zone is the same distance but the speed limit is 10 km/hr. Not all zones are signed. It is the legal responsibility of the boater to know the rules. The absence of signage does not mean there is no speed limit.

Boaters must also be aware that the speed limit and distance regulations also apply when in the vicinity of other boats, swim rafts, and other devices that may be anchored or in use more than 30 metres from shore.

Boaters are responsible for:

  1. Safe operation of their vessel at all times;
  2. Adhering to Transport Canada regulations regarding on-board safety and other equipment. (For information on what is required, please see; and
  3. Damage caused by their boat while it is underway. This means damage to anything – other boats, docks, or even erosion of shorelines, however caused by the operation of your boat.

Boats Making Large Waves for Fun

Two of today’s most popular on-water activities – wakeboarding and wake-surfing, are best enjoyed when the tow boat is making large waves and going slowly. While this increases the enjoyment for the participants, it makes life for others on the water and on shore much less fun
and pleasurable.

Many tow boats in use today have on-board bladders that can be filled with water to enhance the height of the waves created by the boat. But these waves, when too close to shore or too close to other boats, can be a problem.

  1. They may create dangerous boating scenarios when other boats hit the large rolling waves created by the tow boat. Passengers can be thrown about and even injured. In addition, items in the boat can be thrown about and cause injury to others on board; and
  2. Property damage can occur to docks and floating toys such as rafts and trampolines, while these waves may create significant erosion along the shore line.

We are not suggesting that boaters curtail on-water activities such as wake boarding and wake-surfing, but it is imperative that operators undertaking these activities become more aware of the havoc and damage that their actions may cause.

As stated earlier, boat operators are responsible for damage caused by the operation of their boats. Those boaters wishing to participate in “wave-height dependent” activities should:

  1. Operate their boats far from all other boats;
  2. Undertake to keep their activities out in the middle of the lakes and at least 500 meters from shore. This added distance will allow the waves to dissipate before reaching docks and the shore line;
  3. Avoid overloading the tow boat. Every boat has a maximum capacity plate indicating the combined weight of equipment and people the boat can legally carry. Boat operators should never exceed the limit and should try to be remain under the limit; and
  4. Drain the water bladders before coming back near shore or to a dock. Ballast water is free, so re-loading out in open water should not be a significant imposition and it will keep other users of the lakes safer.

Boat Noise

In Canada, we have a mandatory Transport Canada requirement that boats be fitted with mufflers to reduce engine sound emissions. There are exceptions, but in Muskoka these exceptions do not apply.

In Muskoka, there are growing concerns about boats that are too loud.

Boats that are equipped to be loud – Most newer boats are fitted with mufflers. However, some are also equipped with electronic exhaust diversion systems. These devices allow the operator to divert all or most of the exhaust gasses (and the related sound) directly into the air and not through the muffler. Use of such systems is illegal unless the boat is operated at least five miles from the closest shore (or island). No lake in Muskoka is large enough to accommodate this requirement. On any boat equipped with a diverter, it must be visibly rendered inoperable. (This means it must be made permanently useless, not simply turned off.)

Boats that are operated loudly – Any boat can be operated in a manner that can make it too loud. Simply adjusting the trim (also called the tilt) of the engine can alter the sound level significantly. It is important for all boat operators to determine which range of trim angles is best for their own boat. Once the range is known, it is very easy to ensure that engine sounds are not too loud. If the bow of the boat is digging into the water while operating at high speed, or if the bow is bouncing while operating at high speed, the engine trim angle is wrong.
Adjusting the angle will resolve these problems, fuel economy will improve, the boat will be easier to control, and the sound level will decrease.

Being More Respectful

The issues discussed in this message are common to almost all bodies of water in North America.

By becoming more respectful of others and by enhancing our skills and knowledge as boaters, life on the waters of Muskoka and will improve significantly. One of the best ways to make sure that we are all doing our part is to review and adopt a “Boaters Code”.

The Safe Quiet Lakes committee, a recent Muskoka initiative actively supported by the MLA, has an excellent Boater’s Code. For a copy, visit the Safe Quiet Lakes website page at Resources 2013

Sandy Currie

Safe Quiet Lakes’ Legislative & Education, Fundraising, &  CSBC Liaison, MRPOA Liaison