We love boating—but we know noisy boats can be disruptive to both cottagers and aquatic life. While current legislation mandates all power-driven boats to have a muffler, noise emissions have no specific performance limits. Transport Canada is proposing five policy options to avoid unnecessary vessel noise disturbances.
What is Transport Canada proposing?
The first policy option will make no changes to existing regulations, and the second will modernize existing regulations. The third option introduces performance measures for manufacturers, while another introduces performance measures for boaters.
The last option is the most comprehensive, introducing new regulations for both manufacturers and boaters. According to Transport Canada, this policy option would ensure that new and existing boats don’t exceed noise emission limits, will allow police to use a tool to measure decibel limits, and will require operators to modify their boats to meet new standards.
So many options. What do the people want?
Rob Bosomworth, chair of the Decibel Coalition, is passionate about keeping Canada’s lakes quiet and safe. He supports policy option five. “We need to put decibel limits on both manufacturers and operators to regulate manufacturing importers and to ensure all boats are compliant,” says Bosomworth. “This would not be an overly difficult job for Transport Canada because they already have safety standards and environmental measures for boat manufacturers.”
Bosomworth also believes that option five would address the larger part of noise emission issues: boaters who do not comply with current regulations. “By increasing performance measures for operators, we manage the largest portion of the problem,” he says. “This would address the outliers whose boats have no mufflers and make an extreme amount of noise.”
The fifth policy proposal would make waves in the movement, not accomplished by previous strategies. For example, municipalities have tried passing by-laws but have been unsuccessful because they do not have jurisdiction. There has also been an increase in public support. Safe Quiet Lakes’ 2021 survey, consisting of almost 6,000 participants, indicated a strong correlation between enjoyment on the lake and noise limits.
The Decibel Coalition is in frequent talks with Transport Canada and are encouraging supporters to write to their MPs.
Is option five best for everyone? Let’s dive in further.
Sara Anghel, president of National Marine Manufacturers Association of Canada (NMMA), supports policy option four. According to Anghel, it would support “building to the standard that would meet the limits that Transport Canada may wish to impose,” while meeting the best interests of all stakeholders.
The association is concerned that introducing stricter performance measures for manufacturers will make it more difficult for people to enjoy boating. “As an industry, we support people getting into boating and believe that of all the critical priorities that the government should be addressing, boat noise is not at the top of the list,” she says. ”There are more pressing issues, such as improving boating safety, modernizing the pleasure craft licensing system, and supporting the boating community through opportunities to expand recreational boating.”
While the NMMA doesn’t believe that noise is of top priority, Anghel acknowledges that, “there’s a small number of boaters that pose a nuisance on the Canadian waterways, and we don’t want to promote that kind of boating.” Anghel says the larger issue resides with boaters who use outdated engines or add aftermarket modifications.
How about the ones who have to enforce the policy? What do they have to say?
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) support option four and five, with concerns rooted in officer and boater safety. According to Sergeant Dave Moffatt, the provincial marine coordinator of the Highway Safety Division under the OPP, these options would allow police to use an instrument to determine decibel limits, similar to the one used when assessing impaired driving.
Currently, it can be difficult for officers to determine decibel noises or check if there is a muffler present. “This instrument would give us a quantitative result like a pass or fail,” says Sergeant Moffatt. “This will also assess noise emissions for boats that have a muffler and comply with current regulation, but are still loud.”
Sergeant Moffatt says that noise emission issues are limited to small pockets of the country, yet the OPP receives many complaints about loud boats. “Everyone deserves the right to enjoy the water,” says Sergeant Moffatt.
Transport Canada is currently analyzing the comments received through public consultation. They will provide updates during the next meeting of the Canadian Marine Advisory Council in fall 2022.