Dock bubbler
Photo by Maria Dryfhout / Shutterstock

If you install a dock bubbler, what are the implications if someone goes through the ice?

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My neighbour recently added a new stationary dock to his 70-ft.-frontage cottage, and installed a bubbler to keep the ice damage minimal. We cross the lake in the winter and spend many weekends up there. What are the implications should someone go through the ice in front of his cottage? – Nancy Heath

They’re not good: According to the law (see Section 263(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada), if you make an opening in the ice, you’re under “a legal duty to guard it in a manner that is adequate to prevent persons from falling in by accident…” If someone were hurt after falling through an unmarked hole made by your neighbour’s bubbler, your neighbour could be charged with assault; if the person were to die, your neighbour could be charged with manslaughter. (And let’s not forget about civil litigation and potential wrongful death lawsuits.)

Before installing his system, we assume this cottager got any necessary approvals from Transport Canada (in some cases bubblers and de-icers need an okay from the government), and spoke to his insurance provider about accident coverage. He should also get advice as to how to safely operate the bubbler (e.g., by installing a thermostat and a timer to avoid huge, yawning gaps in the ice), and how to best mark the danger (e.g., with lights, signs, pennants, or a snow fence). The local police are a good resource; he might also find helpful tips and info through the lake association or his municipality.

But if your neighbour felt he did everything possible to prevent someone from falling through the ice, and it still happened, would he avoid criminal and civil charges? Maybe, maybe not. Given that scary unknown, he may decide he’d rather risk a damaged dock.