The pros and cons of having a water access cottage

boat in front of cottage Photo by Ekaterina Kondratova/Shutterstock

When John Hassell’s grandparents first started visiting their island cottage in Georgian Bay the trek required an hours-long canoe trip from the mainland. Today, Hassell’s trip is a little quicker, but it’s still “about 20 to 25 minutes in our putt putt boat” after the three-plus hour drive from the city. But while he concedes that having a water-access cottage “is not for everybody,” it’s all part of what makes his family cottage “a pretty special place.”

One of the things Hassell likes most about the property is how rustic it is, something largely imposed by its remote location. The difficulty of getting materials to and from the island means that big projects are rarely tackled, which is just how Hassell, the Director of Communications and Engagement for Ontario Nature, likes it. “It’s pretty rustic. It feels like there’s less of a separation between you and nature.”

The abundance of Crown land and vast distances between neighbours are a huge part of that appeal. “You can skinny dip in the morning without worrying about someone seeing you,” confesses Hassell somewhat, ahem, cheekily.

Hassell feels that with water-access cottagers, at least those in his neck of the woods, “There’s a bit of inverse snobbery. The islanders feel a little bit more hardcore. And the more rustic your cottage is, the better.”

Of course, there are downsides to being remote and rustic. Most of Hassell’s neighbours have three-season cottages that they only visit when the ice is out, and the big water weather is cooperating. In his case, the cottage season runs roughly June through Labour Day or a bit later. “In a very small timeframe it gets a lot of use,” he says.

For those with winterized water-access cottages, you have to wait until the ice is solid enough to support a snowmobile or ATV. Want to visit your island cottage in the shoulder seasons? One of the only options is to invest in an airboat (think Florida Everglades) that can skim over water and ice.

Airboat in Florida Everglades
Photo by lunamarina/Shutterstock

There are at least a couple of other notable drawbacks to owning a water-access property. One of them, as mentioned, is the difficulty in getting things—besides you and your family—to the property. Unless your guests have a boat of their own, you’ll need to coordinate to pick them up at the closest marina. In Hassell’s case, that would mean a roughly one-hour round trip. For others, the trek can be even longer.

The same goes for supplies. You’ll have to schlep in all the food and drinks you’ll need for your visit, along with things like fresh linens, building materials, and so on. Often, that can mean multiple trips back and forth. For anything that’s too big to haul in your runabout—lumber and hardware for that new deck or bunkie you want to build—you’ll have to hire a barge to deliver it.

The other less frequent but more concerning issue is a medical emergency. However far your cottage is from shore is the length of time it will take for step one of you getting to a hospital, or the agonizing final leg waiting for medical professionals to reach you. That said, the compromise is often to have an ambulance meet you at your marina. Here’s a helpful how-to for preparing yourself for an emergency.

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