6 Canadian laws every cottage owner should know about

Model of house and a gavel. Photo by Burdun Iliya/

Learn all about the laws you need to follow if you own or are visiting a cottage in Canada.

Cottage owner responsibility 

Under the Ontario Occupier’s Act, cottage owners must do everything they can to ensure their guests’ safety. “For example, cottage owners need to check that their dock, waterfront access, deck, boat, and cottage interior are safe for people to use,” says Catherine Simons, a lawyer with Dietrich Law Office in Kitchener, Ont. This law also applies to cottage activities, such as boating. “Equipment must be safe and in good condition, and owners must provide safety tools, like life jackets,” Simons says. 

Guests aren’t off the hook either. Visitors must take responsibility. In 2016, a man drowned at his friend’s cottage, and his family sued the owners using the Ontario Liability Act for not warning them about the lake’s conditions. The court ruled in favour of the owner because the man went out to the lake in an inner tube without knowing how to swim, explains Simons.  

Tip: Catherine Simons advises that cottage owners should inform their insurance companies if they are renting their cottages short-term. 

Camp fires and burning 

Thinking about roasting a marshmallow? First, check your municipal bylaws and provincial regulations. If you are in a fire region (designated by the yellow borders) of the Forest Fire Info Map, follow the Forest Fire Prevention Act and local rules. Outside of these parameters, follow local regulations. 

In a fire region, you don’t need a permit when a campfire is smaller than 1-by-1 metre. Burn wood, brush, leaves, and grass so long as the fire is no larger than two metres in width, there are safe burning conditions, and you are not in a restricted area. For special circumstances, purchase a permit in-person at your local fire management office.  

People start half of all wildfires, according to the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry. To reduce fire-related risks, visit FireSmart Canada. If there is a fire south of the Mattawa and French rivers, dial 9-1-1, otherwise call 310-FIRE.

Life jackets 

All boaters need life jackets or PFDs when using a motorized- or human-powered craft (canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards). They are important for protecting you from drowning and cold-water shock, the first stage of sudden submersion in water. According to Transport Canada, most boaters who die on the water are not wearing life jackets at all, or they are wearing them improperly.

When choosing the best option, look for Canadian-approved flotation devices with a label that Transport Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard, and/or Fisheries and Oceans Canada have approved. When deciding, know that life jackets offer more flotation than PFDs. While PFDs are typically more comfortable, you must wear them at all times while on board.

Shore-line speed restrictions

Unless otherwise posted, there is a speed limit of 10 kph when you are boating within 30 metres of shore in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia. This speed limit does not apply to rivers less than 100 metres wide, canals, buoyed channels, and while water skiing (where the boat launches and drops off skiers by heading away from or into shore).  

Check out the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations for more information on waterway speeds. 

Parks and camping 

Before you visit one of Canada’s national parks, educate yourself on the visitor guidelines set out by the Canada National Parks Act. For example, only consume alcohol at registered campsites, private residences, or on licensed premises. Only camp or have a campfire in designated areas. You may operate a drone, fish, and take commercial photography only after obtaining a permit. Skip hunting and fireworks—the act doesn’t allow these activities under any circumstances. Ride an e-bike on trails, but keep motorized vehicles in the parking lot. Lastly, your furry friends are welcome, but keep them on a leash.

Flying a drone

Follow the Government of Canada’s privacy laws when you’re out flying your drone. To safely operate your drone, don’t go beyond reasonable privacy, engage in voyeurism or mischief, create a nuisance, or violate provincial or municipal laws. 

You are accountable for your drone use and information you collect. Only collect necessary information and ask for consent to do so. The drone also needs to be stored safely and operators should be open about their drone use to anyone who is asking. 

For more information, visit Transport Canada’s privacy guidelines for drone users.

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