Unlike the laws of the United States, canoe and kayak laws in Canada are governed Nationally and are therefore MOSTLY consistent throughout the provinces.
Having said that, there are nuances and differences between several of the Provinces and Territories. I’ll be focusing on Ontario’s canoe and kayak laws in this article.
Ontario Canoe & Kayak Laws Overview
Governing Body – Transport Canada is the governing body that establishes and maintains Canadian boating laws in general.
To Register or License; Which one should I do?
If you own a pleasure craft in Ontario, you will most likely NOT have to register your boat. Registration is mostly for commercial vessels. Instead, you’ll have to license your craft if it has a motor of 10 hp or greater.
Canoe Registration – Unpowered (human-powered) boats are not required to be registered or licensed.
Title – You will NOT need to title your canoe or kayak in Ontario. Titling is not a process required for any pleasure craft in Canada.
Information on licensing can be found here.
Canoe/Kayak License Requirements – If the craft is powered only by means other than an assisted device like a motor (ie. if it’s human-powered), no registration or licensing is required.
Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements – No certification or special education is required to operate a non-powered canoe/kayak.
The only certification necessary for anyone in Canada is called the Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) issued by the Canadian government. It is necessary for everyone who operates a motorboat in Canada.
Who needs a Pleasure Craft Operator Card boating education certification? – If you are a Canadian citizen who will be operating any pleasure craft/vessel with a motor regardless of whether the motor is weak or unnecessary to propel the vessel.
Operating Under the Influence – No person is allowed to operate or be in physical control of a motorboat or vessel (we assume this includes canoes and kayaks) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Anyone caught with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher will be in violation of BUI (boating under the influence) laws.
Emergency Equipment Requirements – As in most jurisdictions, a wearable personal flotation device needs to be accessible to everyone in a vessel in the Province of Ontario.
The minimum legal requirements for emergency equipment on your vessel (canoe/kayak) includes the following:
- Life jackets— All Life Jackets (PFDs) need to be approved by EITHER Transport Canada or the Canadian Coast Guard. They must be of the right size and type, for everyone on board
- Buoyant Heaving Line – A 50-foot long continuous rope (can’t tie ropes together) that is thrown to someone in distress. It is not meant to be used as a towline.
- Bailer or Manual Bilge Pump – A bailer must hold at least 3 cups of water and have an opening of 3.5 inches or larger. It must be made of plastic or metal and is to be used to scoop out excess water in the bottom of the canoe or kayak.
- Sound Signaling Device – A Fox 40 or similar whistle is a good example of a sound signal device. A compressed gas horn, electric horn or bell are other (though less convenient) options. A loud human voice is not acceptable.
- Visual Distress Signal – Acceptable options are a bright waterproof flashlight, a flare, an orange distress flag, etc.
- Night Time Navigation Lights – Mandatory on all canoes/kayaks between sunset and sunrise. Acceptable options are a bright lantern with a white light or a waterproof bright flashlight.
Do I Need a License of any kind in order to canoe or kayak in Ontario?
The short answer to this question is NO. While Ontario does require registering a motorized craft (battery-powered or liquid fuel-powered) of over 9.9 hp, it does not require non-powered kayaks or canoes to be registered.
You may license your “heavily-powered” canoe (if applicable) using THIS LINK.
Do I Need a Title for my Canoe or Kayak in Ontario?
No. You will not need to title any motorized canoe or kayak in Ontario. Titling is not required for personal pleasure vessels in Canada.
Do I Need a License or Registration in Ontario if my Canoe or Kayak has a Motor?
No. As long as your canoe or kayak’s motor does not exceed 9.9 hp, you will not need to register or license your vessel.
Keep in mind that 1 hp is approximately equal to 70 – 75 lbs of electric trolling motor thrust. That means you’d have to get a 700-lb thrust electric motor to equal 10 hp (which means you’d then have to get your boat licensed). The catch is that there is no such thing as a 700-lb thrust motor. As of the writing of this article, I couldn’t find one bigger than 112-lb thrust (which you can’t even fit on a normal canoe properly).
Canoe/Kayak Operator Requirements for Motorized and Non-Motorized Vessels in Ontario
Do I have to be a certain age in Ontario to operate a canoe with an electric trolling motor?
No. Ontario does not restrict the age of anyone operating a non-motorized vessel or a motorized canoe/kayak.
However, if your canoe or kayak has any motor at all (including a weak, small electric motor), you must provide something called “PROOF OF COMPETENCY”.
A variety of documents may serve as proof of competency:
- Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC)
Note: A paper or electronic copy of a PCOC is NOT acceptable.
- Certificate from a Canadian boating safety course completed before April 1, 1999 (when the current regulation came into effect)
- professional marine certificate or equivalent from the List of Certificates of Competency, Training Certificates and other Equivalencies accepted as Proof of Competency when Operating a Pleasure Craft
- completed Rental Boat Safety Checklist, good only for the rental period
- for a visitor to Canada, an operator card or other document that meets the requirements of his or her home state or country
Proof of competency is not required in the following situations:
- the boat is being operated in the waters of Nunavut or the Northwest Territories
- a visitor to Canada is operating the boat he or she brought into Canada for less than 45 consecutive days
Alcohol – Operating Under the Influence in Ontario
Is it illegal to drink alcohol while paddling my canoe in Ontario?
Yes, it is illegal in Ontario to operate a boat while intoxicated. A boater is considered “intoxicated” if his/her blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.
However, if a boater is impaired by any substance, including prescription drugs, marijuana, or other narcotics, they can still be charged with impaired boating if they fail to pass a field sobriety test.
Ontario Boating Emergency Equipment Requirements
Every Province in Canada has a similar set of rules (if not identical). I’m a pretty good swimmer, but it’s just become a habit now for me to wear a PFD at all times, so I personally don’t worry about what the law says.
I know if I wear my PFD I’m not breaking any laws – ever!
In my case, I’ll cheat a bit and take it off or open it for a while if it’s insanely hot and the water is calm, but as a rule, I’d say wear one all the time!
What are the required items I’ll need legally while canoeing/kayaking in Ontario?
You’ll need a number of items of gear for legal and safe travel on Ontario’s waterways.
Life Jacket – You will be required by law to have a readily accessible and wearable PFD (personal flotation device) for everyone on board your canoe/kayak. They need to be Type I, II or III (or a wearable V)
Throwable Floating Heaving Line – Must be at least 50 feet long (one continuous rope) and only used for throwing to someone overboard – not a towing or utility rope.
Manual Bailing Device – Must hold at least 3 cups of water and have an opening of at least 3.5 inches in diameter and be made of plastic or metal.
Visual Distress Signals (VDS) – Mandatory for all canoes/kayaks on the water from sunset to sunrise. This can include a water-tight flashlight, flare, or an orange distress flag (daytime).
If you use flares, you must have 6 in total; 3 for day use and 3 for night use, and must be Coast Guard or Transport Canada Approved.
Navigation Lights – Unpowered vessels require, at minimum, a bright white lantern with enough luminosity to prevent a collision. These lights are required only when the boat is anchored or moving anytime between sunset and sunrise. A bright white flashlight or bright white lantern light is acceptable.
Fire Extinguishers – Not required in canoes/kayaks.
Emergency Locator Beacons – Not required, but I’ve included this piece of equipment because I believe it is something EVERY canoeist and kayaker should have regardless of where they will paddle. ACR makes a very good model (pictured below).
Life Jackets for Various Vessels in Ontario
Canoes or kayaks of any size/length need to have aboard a Type I, II or III US Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device for each person on board. The law does not specifically state it needs to be worn, but I’d strongly suggest you wear it.
It’s not smart to assume you’ll be able to find it, put it on properly and fasten it effectively while you’re in the water and in distress.
IMPORTANT: It’s worth a mention to note that the PFD must be in good condition (not full of rips/tears with broken straps, etc.) AND must be readily accessible, AND must be of the proper size for the intended user.
Emergency Sound Device (Ontario Boating Law)
According to Ontario boat laws, all boats within the provincial boundaries need to have a device that makes a very loud noise. In Ontario, any powered or unpowered canoe or kayak MUST have a loud noise-making device. A loud human voice is not acceptable.
We regularly use the FOX 40 whistle. Find one HERE for $15 – $30.
That said, if you’re feeling adventurous, there is a louder whistle that exceeds the typical 115 to 120 decibel level of the Fox 40 line of whistles. The Hyper-Whistle is a great alternative to the Fox 40 though it’s a few dollars more and a tiny bit bigger.
It offers a 2-mile range and can hit up to 142 decibels (dB). You can check it out on Amazon for only about $5 more than the Fox 40.
You may also choose to have an air horn or other device that does not require your lung power, but I find a whistle is more than adequate given its smaller size, lower price, and because it’s maintenance-free and never has to be replaced or recharged or “checked” unless it’s lost.
Canoe/Kayak Emergency Lighting (Ontario Boating Law)
Do I need special lights for my canoe in Ontario?
Most of us don’t prance around the ocean or large lakes after dark in our little canoe, but if that does happen either because of an emergency situation or because you’re out there for a specific purpose that can only happen after dark, here are some rules.
- If you are operating an unpowered canoe or kayak, you’ll need to have AT LEAST a bright white lantern that produces a light that is visible from every angle and displayed in sufficient time to prevent a collision.
- All craft (including canoes/kayaks) must display a white light visible from all angles if anchored anywhere OTHER THAN a designed mooring area.
Transport Canada encourages users of kayaks and canoes (after dark) to display the bow red/green lights as well when underway. I’ve included a photo and link below to the best option (which is also the cheapest) for a canoe or kayak.
This is the best (and least expensive) option for a portable bow light that satisfies all state/provincial boating regulations.
This is definitely the light I would get if I didn’t already have an excellent light that I use for longer wilderness trips (smaller but not as impressive as this one)!
A stern mounted white light such as this one is exactly what is mandated for use if your canoe or kayak is (for some reason) moored away from shore overnight.
Here’s our choice for an excellent small, effective, and compliant stern light for dusk to dawn voyages.
Here’s a light very similar to the one I actually use in real life on my trips!
Visual Distress Signals (VDS) – Required onboard any canoe/kayak in Canada that is on the water (other than moored at a dock) from sunset to sunrise.
Ontario Canoe / Kayak Fire Extinguisher Law
Fire extinguishers are not required for canoes or kayaks for obvious reasons. If you should find yourself in a situation where a fire breaks out in your canoe, a simple splash of water (or barring that, a controlled capsize) should do the trick nicely.
Ontario Boating Rules and Certification Information
Ontario’s Boating Guide can be found HERE