5 potentially life-saving tips every boater should know

Portrait of young and attractive people, friends in the motorboat driving somewhere on a picnic. Happy faces, having fun, Norway. Photo by Dmitrijs Bindemanis/

Who doesn’t love spending a weekend on the water? Before jumping on your boat this season, it’s important to prepare with the right boating safety procedures and supplies. OPP Sergeant Dave Moffatt, the provincial marine coordinator of the Highway Safety Division, shares five preventative boating safety tips before stepping on board.

Put on your life jacket 

Wear a life jacket or PFD on a motorized- or human-powered boat (including a standup paddleboard or any other craft used for navigation). “Life jackets keep your head above water, while a personal floatation device keeps you afloat, but doesn’t always keep your head above water,” says Sergeant Moffatt. If you become unconscious, a PFD might not stop you from drowning.

Tip: Sergeant Moffatt recommends an automatic inflatable PFD. “Our entire force wears them. It’s a cheap investment for your safety and comfort,” he says.

Be prepared 

It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3.

1. Check local weather forecasts or head to Transport Canada for a map showing marine forecasts and warnings. “If there are heavy winds or thunderstorms, skip boating because bad weather can travel fast,” says Sergeant Moffatt. 

2. Know the area you are boating in—especially when using a human-powered boat in rapid-ridden and high-level waterways. Only experienced boaters should attempt to navigate rapids. Check water levels through the Surface Water Monitor Centre

3. Sergeant Moffatt recommends taking a preparation course to improve knowledge of boating safety—“Boating is difficult, and you can never learn enough about it,” he says. 

Zero tolerance for alcohol and drugs

Never consume alcohol or drugs while operating a boat (including human-powered ones). Alcohol affects your judgment and response time by intensifying your body’s reaction to sun exposure, wind, and fatigue. In fact, one drink on the water can be equivalent to three on land, according to Transport Canada. 

Deck out your boat 

Time to accessorize—there’s a lot more equipment you need on board than you might think, and you have to know where it all is. “During inspections, you wouldn’t believe how long it can take for some people to find their safety equipment,” says Sergeant Moffatt. 

According to Transport Canada, mandatory boating safety equipment includes a PFD or lifejacket for each person on board, a buoyant heaving line, a manual propelling device or anchor (at least 15 metres in length), a bailer or hand pump, a sound-signalling device, navigation lights, a 5BC fire extinguisher (a fixed fuel tank or a fuel-burning unit is sufficient, too), a waterproof flashlight, and a boating licence (with any motor of 10 hp or more).

Inspect your boat

Sergeant Moffatt recommends fastening your plugs, ensuring both the lights and motors are working properly, and assessing your craft for damage each time you ride. “It is important to have a regular maintenance schedule and have your engine looked at before the season starts,” he says. Consider scheduling free Pleasure Craft Courtesy Checks with Transport Canada volunteers, who will identify any potential problems or safety concerns. 

Tip: Don’t forget about your trailer while looking after your boat. Examine the axles, bearings, brakes, and lights for proper operation.

For more information about boating safety, read Transport Canada’s Safe Boating Guide.

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