What We Heard: Public Consultation on the Regulations Amending the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations (submission 2021)

Transport Canada proposed changes to the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations. These changes were available for public comment through the Canada Gazette, Part 1, from June 17  to August 16, 2023. This report summarizes what we heard during this public consultation.

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Our consultation approach

On June 17, 2023, the Regulations Amending the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations were pre-published in the Canada Gazette, Part 1 for a 60-day public consultation period.

To invite comments and feedback from stakeholders, we:

  • emailed the consultation link to individuals and organizations on the Canadian Marine Advisory Council's distribution list
  • emailed the consultation link to stakeholders of the Office of Boating Safety, including regional partners
  • noted that several boating and industry associations told their members about the consultation

When the consultation closed, we had received over 700 comments. Most of these comments came from the Canada Gazette's online regulatory consultation system. We also received comments through emails. Most of the comments were related to the 21 new restrictions being proposed on six bodies of water. Over 100 comments were also received on the proposed amendments to the body of the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations.

The Canada Gazette posted comments from its online regulatory consultation system to its website for public review on September 16, 2023.

We heard from:

  • Canadians across the country, including recreational boaters
  • marine stakeholders, like marine trade associations
  • law enforcement agencies
  • boating safety advocates
  • pleasure craft dealers
  • associations that represent cottagers
  • others

Feedback grouped by theme

General comments

We received 68 comments about the proposal overall. Of these, commenters, 62 supported the proposed regulations. The commenters believe that the new and amended restrictions would improve environmental protection and navigation safety.

Five commenters did not support the proposed regulations. They believe it would create a burden and would not provide any benefits.

One commenter felt that tickets were not enough to make people follow the rules on Canadian waterways. The commenter proposed a tougher enforcement system where those who do not follow requirements would receive increased fines and/or have their boats seized.

Engine power limits

We received 13 comments about the proposed amendments to Subsection 2(4) on engine power limits to remove the reference to “parks or controlled access bodies of water.” Nine commenters supported the proposed amendment to the engine power restrictions. They believe it will improve navigation safety and environmental protection on additional waterways.

Two commenters opposed engine power limits in general. They believe they discriminate against larger and more powerful boats. One commenter suggested that local authorities should not have decision-making powers on navigable waters. One commenter believed that other legislation and regulations like the Small Vessel Regulations could address the dangerous operation of vessels better than engine power restrictions.

Updating exemptions

We only received one comment on the proposed exemptions under the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations for:

  1. a person who holds a federal fishing license and whose livelihood depends on fishing, and
  2. Indigenous Peoples exercising their recognized and affirmed right under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982

The commenter did not support having exemptions for fishers but did not give a reason why.

Wake surfing restriction

Wake surfing is a sport which involves pulling a person on a wake board, usually behind a wake boat.

The proposal to remove wake surfing restrictions from Schedule 7 and include them in a new, separate Schedule (Schedule 7.1) that focuses only on wake surfing received 41 comments. 21 commenters supported the proposed new schedule. They believe it will improve navigation safety and environmental protection (for example, by reducing erosion effects). It will also protect the public interest (for example, by reducing potential damage to shore infrastructure such as docks).

Three commenters questioned why wake boarding was not part of the restriction, since the sport can also be practiced using the vessels' ballast systems to create a larger wake to ride on. Three commenters suggested banning wake surfing across the country.

Nine commenters suggested creating a national policy that would introduce wake surfing restrictions based on length, width, and depth of waterways. Two commenters suggested introducing a restriction that would manage excessive wake, because other recreational activities use a wake.

Three commenters said that they were fully against any restriction on wake surfing, but they did not give a reason.

New restrictions

We have received applications from local authorities for 21 new restrictions on six bodies of water. For complete details on these restrictions please visit Regulations Amending the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations. Below is an overview of comments received for each body of water where new restrictions are being introduced.

Big Tub Harbour (Ontario)

We received 35 comments supporting the proposed restrictions to address safety issues and protect the environment and public interest.

Richelieu River (Quebec)

We received 346 comments concerning proposed restrictions on the Richelieu River. 267 commenters, including non-governmental organizations, supported the proposed restrictions to address safety issues and protect the environment and public interest.

A total of 66 commenters were not in favour of the proposed restrictions. These commenters said that they were not consulted properly and that they did not agree with the how restrictive the proposal is. They noted that one municipality was not fully supportive, based on wording from their municipal resolution.

They also felt that the combination of various speed limit zones may:

  • increase congestion
  • Increase wake creation with the “stop and go” of vessels
  • make traffic less fluid, which may impact navigation safety

These commenters also disagreed with imposing wake surfing restrictions on weekends. They suggested that local communities should re-consult with stakeholders to create a sound and productive regulatory proposal for the waterway. Some commenters believed that the restrictions were either being put forward to deal with a small group of recreational boaters or to respond to a small group of worried stakeholders.

One industry representative for local marinas supported some proposed restrictions, but not the wake surfing restrictions on weekends.

Six commenters supported the restrictions but believed more aggressive measures should be put in place. This includes prohibiting anchorage in some areas and creating 'no wake' zones. Transport Canada launched a consultation on long-term anchoring (such as floating accommodations) which was open from October 12 to December 11, 2023. This consultation provided us with stakeholder views on anchorage.

One commenter suggested that restrictions should depend on the size of vessels and the wake they produce instead of putting every boat under the same system. Two commenters suggested that enforcing the speed limit restrictions will not be feasible, as the resources for enforcement groups are limited. In terms of enforcement, local authorities are responsible for having an enforcement system that makes sure the restrictions are followed.

Lastly, three commenters pointed out an error in the section of the Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement describing the towing and wake surfing restriction for the 50 km/h portion of the waterway. Instead of prohibiting wake surfing during the afternoons on weekends, it was written as though wake surfing was only allowed during that time. An erratum was published on July 1, 2023, to correct this error in the description section.

St-Maurice River (Quebec)

We received 48 comments about the St-Maurice River. Of these commenters, 46 supported the proposed restrictions to address safety issues and protect the environment and public interest.

One commenter suggested enlarging the area covered by the restrictions up to a local dam, as there may also be issues in that area of the waterway. Finally, one commenter suggested putting more aggressive measures in place, such as limiting speed to 5 km/h all along the waterway.

Duhamel Lake (Quebec)

We received 70 comments about Duhamel Lake. Of these commenters, 42 supported the proposed restrictions to address safety issues and protect the environment and public interest.

A total of 22 commenters supported the restrictions, but believed more aggressive measures should also be put in place. This includes speed limits no higher than 10 km/h on the entire lake and introducing 'no wake' zones.

Six commenters did not support the restrictions, or parts of the restrictions (for example, they did not support the towing restriction or identified speed limits). They requested more analysis and consultations be conducted.

Pinawa Channel and Lee River (Manitoba)

We received 90 comments about the Pinawa Channel and Lee River. Of these commenters, 63 supported the proposed restrictions to address safety issues and protect the environment and public interest.

Nine commenters felt that the proposed restrictions would only move the problem to other areas of the waterways or even to other nearby bodies of water. They suggested that more analysis is needed to address the issues and to consider expanding restrictions to other areas.

Three commenters did not support the restrictions. They believe the process was not evidence based and that the restrictions are being proposed to address concerns from a minority of local citizens living on the banks of the waterways. Seven commenters felt that the proposed restrictions on wake surfing would have a negative impact on local stakeholders who practice the sport.

One commenter suggested limiting the engine power of vessels to 5 horsepower, restricting towing and wake surfing at all times, and increasing the presence of enforcement groups. One commenter supported the wake surfing restriction but not the towing restrictions. Another commenter suggested that there should be no wake surfing on Pinawa Channel at all. Three commenters requested reducing the restricted area to 30 metres from shore instead of 100 metres.

Two commenters suggested restricting ballast systems on wake boats, which are used to create a large wake for the surfer to ride. These commenters felt that Transport Canada should at least introduce wake surfing restrictions based on the length, depth, and width of waterways. This would address similar wake surfing issues across the country by defining what areas are suitable for practicing wake surfing.

Designation authority

Two commenters from Canada Port Authorities signaled the importance of enforcement designations for Canada Port Authorities across the country to enforce vessel operation restrictions within their jurisdictional waters.

Regulatory analysis

Three commenters suggested that the costs for local authorities to implement the restrictions would be offset by the benefits of the regulations and future costs savings (for example, from reducing environmental impacts).

Two commenters provided their views on the impacts to the marine industry from the proposed restrictions for the Richelieu River and Duhamel Lake. They believed that the marine industry would adapt to these restrictions by adding more human powered vessels to their inventories. This would allow all vessel activities to integrate better on these waterways.

One commenter raised concerns about the high costs of signage requirements on the Richelieu River. The commenter mentioned they had developed a smartphone application which integrated the restrictions on an electronic map at a lower cost than physical signage.

Next steps

We have recorded the comments we received through this public consultation, and we will consider them as we finalize amendments to the regulations.

The regulations, if approved, should be published in the Canada Gazette, Part II, in late December 2023 or early January 2024.

We will inform stakeholders of the publication through our distribution lists. Transport Canada officials will contact Local authorities directly to inform them when the restrictions come into force, and their roles and responsibilities.

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