Transport Canada seeks public feedback as it considers tightening restrictions on floating accommodations

Autumn in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories of Canada. View to the House Boats in the Yellowknife Bay of the Great Slave Lake. House boats in a bay on Great Slave Lake, N.W.T. Photo by GeGiGoggle/Shutterstock

After both the Ontario government and local municipalities raise concerns, the feds are finally addressing the topic of “floating accommodations” by asking for public feedback on long-term anchoring.

“In recent years, Transport Canada has learned of situations where non-traditional vessels have been anchored long-term within Canada. Having vessels anchored long-term for recreation has raised concerns about the environment, safety, and public access,” the government agency said in a statement.

In early 2023, an argument flared between the Township of Georgian Bay, Ont. and LOTB (Live Outside the Box)—a company that manufactures floating accommodations from shipping containers—over a 1,000-sq.-ft. waterborne dwelling parked in the Port Severn, Ont., harbour.

Local residents called the floating home an eyesore and voiced environmental concerns over greywater discharge. But the containers, which are encapsulated in a polystyrene foam foundation to keep them afloat, qualify as a vessel under Transport Canada’s criteria. And since the federal government regulates the movement of vessels on the surface of water—the provincial governments control lake beds and Crown land while municipalities regulate local land use—the feds have final say.

But Transport Canada has taken note of the growing number of floating accommodations, prompting the agency to modernize its current regulations through public feedback.

If there’s enough public interest, Transport Canada said it will consider incorporating long-term anchoring restrictions into the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations (VORR), a mechanism municipalities and provincial governments can use to enforce boating laws.

This call for public feedback, however, doesn’t address the issue of what qualifies as a vessel. Instead, Transport Canada is looking at restricting where vessels can anchor and for how long. If restrictions were put in place, floating accommodations would still qualify as vessels. Only their ability to anchor permanently on waterways would be affected.

Concerned about the lack of restrictions, local organizations are already taking steps into their own hands. The Georgian Bay Association and the Gloucester Pool Cottagers Association founded the Float Homes Not Vessels Coalition in August 2023. The coalition urges waterfront residents to record the location of any floating accommodations and monitor for environmental impacts, reporting transgressors to Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and Transport Canada.

The Ontario government has also addressed floating accommodations, enacting its own restrictions. As of July 1, floating accommodations in Ontario are no longer allowed to anchor overnight on public land covered by water. This doesn’t include sailboats, houseboats, cabin cruisers, or other traditional watercraft. And in B.C., floating accommodations are limited to regulated marinas and floating home communities where they must be anchored as permanent residences rather than watercraft intended for navigation.

Long-term anchoring isn’t the only thing Transport Canada is seeking public feedback on. The agency is also looking at granting provincial and municipal governments a greater role in managing their waterways. This wouldn’t mean handing over constitutional powers to provinces and municipalities. Instead, Transport Canada is looking at speeding up the VORR process.

Currently, it can take four or more years from the time a VORR restriction is proposed to when its implemented. “Provinces, local authorities, persons living along waterways, and recreational boaters have repeatedly expressed frustration at how long it takes for requested restrictions to come into effect. These groups have also raised concerns that the types of restrictions under the VORR are limited and do not cover all of the issues on local waterways,” Transport Canada said in a statement.

The agency added that the lengthy timeline is often due to drafts of restrictions getting bogged down in comment periods. As a possible solution, Transport Canada has proposed skipping certain comment periods—although, it still plans to consult Indigenous groups—and introducing municipal restriction requests. Through this channel, municipalities could propose their own restrictions, holding consultations among local residents and Indigenous groups, before passing them on to Transport Canada. If approved by Transport Canada officials, the government agency could immediately implement the restriction under the VORR. The restriction would be enacted much faster and would remain in place for two years before being reassessed.

This means municipalities could have more say over issues affecting them, such as floating accommodations. But fewer comment periods could also limit stakeholder feedback. Dependent on public input, Transport Canada said it would like to have a solution in place by summer 2025.

The comment period for long-term anchoring and speeding up the VORR process is open for public feedback until December 11.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified FOCA as the founder of the Float Homes Not Vessels Coalition. The coalition was founded by the Georgian Bay Association and the Gloucester Pool Cottagers Association.

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