You are out on your boat when you see another boat approaching. Suddenly the flashing lights go on and you realize you are being stopped by the police. We often see the police on the roads, but it is less common to be stopped in your boat. Still, if you’re not following the boating safety regulations and don’t have all your gear in line, the fines can add up fast.
So what do boaters most commonly get fined for? And, more importantly, how can you avoid getting ticketed? We contacted the Ontario Provincial Police and Sgt. Byron Newell of the East Region S.A.V.E. Team in Snowmobile, ATV, and Vessel Enforcement to find out.
1. Personal flotation devices (PFDs) and life jackets are the first thing that police officers are looking for. There needs to be a PFD for every person on board , they have to fit properly, show no wear or be missing fasteners. They have to be readily accessible (if you’re not actually wearing yours) and if it’s an inflatable life vest, users must be age 16 or older and you must be wearing it. The fine applies to every person on board who is not in compliance. Typically, the fine for not having the right life jacket is $240 in Ontario.
2. Having open liquor or cannabis on board will attract another fine. You are allowed to transport these items, but they have to be sealed, stowed, and out of sight. An open container of either liquor or cannabis is not allowed on board a boat. (The only times when you can “consume” on your boat is when you are moored or anchored and you have a permanent washroom, cooking and sleeping accommodations onboard.) Also, remember, people in kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, and other watercraft are covered under this regulation.The operator can be fined $215 and everyone else onboard can also be charged $125 per person.
3. The operator must have their valid Pleasure Craft Operator’s Card (PCOC) with them in the boat and the fine is $305 for not having the card onboard (even if you have one at home). It’s also best to have your other ID with you too. The PCOC card does not have a photo and the other ID can help establish that you are the person who holds that PCOC card. Fine: $305.
4. A spotter is required when using your boat for “towed sports” (water skiing, wake boarding, wake surfing, tubing, etc.) and that spotter must be considered reliable or competent. Obviously, you can’t safely drive the boat and watch the skier at the same time. Another part of this regulation is that there must be an available seat in the boat for every person being towed in case you need to bring them into the boat. If you are towing with a personal watercraft, it will need to be a three-seater and you can only tow one person. You have a driver, spotter and one rider—that’s three seats minimum. The fine is $305.
5. Powered vessels require a Pleasure Craft License and the Transport Canada vessel license numbers are to be properly displayed on the bow of the vessel. You are also required to have the registration—on board—and the vessel’s ownership (or copies) too. Not having the license registration earns you a fine of $305.
Sgt. Newell noted that, especially with the high water this year, complaints about boaters breaking the speeding law–10 km/h when 30 meters from shore or speeding in speed restricted zones, is the most common call that the police are getting. The high water has damaged a lot of shoreline structures in Ontario and people are concerned about further damage from boat wakes.
If you are stopped, officers will usually check for the full range of required safety equipment and this is clearly laid out in the Transport Canada Boating Safety Guide. And don’t forget that when boating in larger bodies of water where you could be more than a mile (1.85 km) from shore, the police will be looking for distress flares and other safety equipment. There is, however, an easy and good way to check that your vessel is properly equipped. You can contact the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons for a free vessel courtesy check. They will check your boat for free… and if you have everything you need, you’ll get a Safety Inspection Sticker. If you don’t have everything their people will explain exactly what you should have on board.
Remember, the police are not looking to spoil your day. The regulations are there to protect you and your passengers, but fines are a strong incentive to follow the law.