Careful with that bubbler

By Penny Caldwell »Penny Caldwell

Serious concerns to keep in mind when you stop the ice from forming

February 16th, 2012

ice damage

Photo by eflon


Guest post by Blair Eveleigh, senior associate editor

Many of you will have set up bubblers to keep ice from forming around your docks or boathouses this winter and causing unwanted and expensive damage. It’s a good strategy: big, moving sheets of ice can be very destructive, and who wants to arrive at the cottage in the spring to find their dock in a shambles? Well, lately we’ve been getting some questions about bubblers, and we have to tell you bubbler folk that there are some sobering potential problems when you use these devices.

First of all, to install your bubbler you may need approval under the federal Navigable Waters Protection Act. You should always check with Transport Canada before you set your system up.

Once your bubbler is installed, you are responsible for making sure no one is harmed because of the opening in the ice that your bubbler will create. From the Transport Canada website:

Note: The action of safeguarding the ice and the hole that is created is a criminal code responsibility. It falls under the Criminal Code under “Duty to safeguard opening in ice”. Any questions regarding the marking of the opening in the ice should be directed to your local OPP detachment.

Bubblers and their consequences fall under the part of the Criminal Code that deals with “Offences Against the Person.” Here’s the relevant section that applies:

263. (1) Every one who makes or causes to be made an opening in ice that is open to or frequented by the public is under a legal duty to guard it in a manner that is adequate to prevent persons from falling in by accident and is adequate to warn them that the opening exists. …

(3) Every one who fails to perform a duty imposed by subsection (1) … is guilty of (a) manslaughter, if the death of any person results therefrom; (b) an offence under section 269, if bodily harm to any person results therefrom; or (c) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Section 269 refers to cases of assault causing bodily harm, and if the injuries are severe, the Crown could decide to try a case as an indictable offence, where a conviction could lead to imprisonment for up to 10 years.

Whoa. Imagine that: All you want to do is stop the ice from damaging your dock, but then someone dies and you end up convicted of manslaughter, or someone is injured and you’re convicted of assault causing bodily harm and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Serious stuff to consider.



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Feb. 24, 2012

11:30 am

Re bubbling. What happens with open water after the ice braker goes through? I don't see signs, caution tape, or traffic cones!

Blair Eveleigh


Feb. 22, 2012

11:46 am

Thanks for the comments over the last couple of days. I don't have answers to the questions about what constitutes due diligence, how to protect pets, or whether bubbler owners are liable if snowmobilers are puddle-jumping on purpose. I'd suggest asking someone at Transport Canada or the OPP, which is in charge of enforcing the law.

Feb. 22, 2012

9:24 am

So....On the end of each of my 35 foot docks I have an orange traffic cone with a bright orange 10 foot high "stick" attached and construction danger tape across.the bubbled area which is a circle about 15 feet across INSIDE the horshoe. I am attempting to provide warning,am I doing enough? As we live on a lake with a high flow of water ,the area out further never really feezes and we would seldom see any sleds to begin with....but we can't all just quit "bubbling" so what constitutes "due diligence"?


Feb. 21, 2012

5:42 pm

Please be aware that animals (including your pets) cannot read signs and much more (perhaps a fence) is needed to prevent them from falling into these hazards. A good friend of mine lost her dog to a bubbler by a neighbors dock, even though it was 'stringed' off. The bubbler did not keep the ice open very much - just thin - so from the top it looked pretty normal. While the dog wandered out of site for a just couple of minutes, the poor thing couldn't have lasted long as she was just gone suddenly..and her tracks led to the now open hazard. They found her in the spring.


Feb. 21, 2012

10:47 am

How appropriate. Just yesterday while skating on the lake we witnessed a snowmobiler plunge into open water due to a bubbler. The area was not marked. Serious stuff. I wonder if a person can be charged if the snomobiler crosses the open water on purpose (ie. "puddle jumping" as they call it.)

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