Transport Canada releases public comments on proposed regulation changes to boat noise levels

an overhead shot of a motorboat going across a waterbody, boat noise Photo by Shutterstock/Aerial-motion

Have you ever had a peaceful evening on the dock disrupted by the roar of an excessively loud motorboat? Well, that may change.

Transport Canada conducted a consultation in March 2022, asking the public to weigh in on small boats’ noise emissions. Transport Canada provided the public with five options, asking whether they agreed or disagreed with the option and why.

The options included:

1. Making no regulation changes to noise emissions.

2. Updating the definition of what qualified as a muffler.

3. Creating performance standards for boat manufacturers.

4. Creating performance standards for boat operators.

5. Creating performance standards for both manufacturers and operators.

Over 2,300 people provided feedback, and the government agency has now released the results. The most popular option was number five, creating performance standards for both manufacturers and operators. Respondents emphasized that this was the most realistic approach for addressing excessive engine noise from both old and new boats, and compliance costs would be low for manufacturers and importers.

The response came as pleasant news to Rob Bosomworth, the co-chair of the Decibel Coalition, a lobbying group created by the non-profit Safe Quiet Lakes. He, along with other members of the Decibel Coalition, have been recruiting lake associations and other stakeholders across Canada since fall 2019 to call on Transport Canada to introduce stricter regulations around boat noise emissions. Its membership spans across the country with close to 95,000 supporters.

Despite the Decibel Coalition’s numbers, Bosomworth says lobbying Transport Canada is a long process. “Transport Canada will not commit until they’ve gone through all their steps,” he says. “And they will tell you very quickly that if they get what’s called a regulatory priority—that’s where some priority comes in and it’s more important than yours—then they will put yours aside and let it sit there until they have some time.”

Current boat engine regulations dictate that all power-driven boats must have a muffler. But Bosomworth points out that Transport Canada’s definition of a muffler is vague. “What’s a muffler?” he says. “Is it a rag tied around the back of the exhaust where it comes out? Is it a little flap? It’s a bit like saying we don’t want people to drive fast on the highway but we’re not going to put a speed limit.”

Enforcement is another issue. Police don’t necessarily have the mechanical expertise to assess whether a boat is using an adequate muffler. And they don’t have the technology to measure a boat engine’s decibel levels.

While Transport Canada is still in the early stages of reassessing current regulations, Bosomworth says he hopes the government agency will bring Canada in line with other places, such as the U.S. and Europe. “Canada has been an outlier in this for almost 30 years,” he says. “Various states in the U.S. brought in decibel limits as long ago as the mid-to-late ‘80s.”

To make Canada consistent with the U.S. and Europe, a boat would need a decibel measurement of 88 dBA when idling and 75 dBA when driving. To put that in perspective, 88 dBA would be similar in noise to a vacuum cleaner, while 75 dBA is closer to the sound of an alarm clock.

“If you’re sitting on your deck by the lake and a boat goes by, and it’s making more than 72 decibels where you are—it might be making a lot more noise on the lake—you have to either raise your voice to continue your conversation or stop,” Bosomworth says.

If Transport Canada did pass new noise regulations, it would likely require manufacturers and operators to use standardized and approved mufflers to reduce the noise emitted from a boat engine’s exhaust. Enforcement agencies would also need to introduce measurement tools where they could check the engine’s decibel levels both at speed and idling. Bosomworth says that Canadian enforcement agencies should use the U.S. as an example. Its enforcement agencies have gotten the testing process down to 12 minutes.

“It’s a bit like a breathalyzer,” he says. “You turn your boat on and they use a little handheld device, around the same size as a cell phone. Calibrate it. Take the measurement. If it’s too loud, give them a ticket.”

New regulations, however, could still be a few years off. Once Transport Canada drafts new noise regulations, they’ll still have to go through rounds of public consultation. “We would expect the updated regulations in 2025,” Bosomworth says. “That’s what they have led us to believe.”

 Featured Video