Requirements for Foreign Recreational Boaters in Canadian Waters
Welcome to the country with the world's longest coastline and greatest concentration of freshwater lakes. We invite you to explore Canada's waterways responsibly. All recreational boaters, both foreign and domestic, are expected to know the rules that govern their safe enjoyment in Canadian waters.
Once in Canadian waters, you must follow the rules that govern safety equipment, the safe operation of your pleasure craft, and protection of the environment that apply in Canada. Watch for boating restrictions such as speed limits or vessel prohibitions.
For more information, read on...
- Operator Competency Requirements
- Age - Horsepower Restrictions
- Safety Equipment Requirements
- Alcohol and Boating
- Shore-Line Speed Restrictions
- Sewage Restrictions
- Marine VHF Radio
- Marine Charts
- Entering Canada by Boat (Customs)
- For more information...
Operator Competency Requirements
The Competency of Operators of Pleasure Craft Regulations require that all operators of pleasure craft fitted with a motor have proof of competency and proof of age on board at all times.
The Regulations are being phased in as follows:
- All operators born after April 1, 1983 are required to have proof of competency since 1999.
- As of September 15, 2002, all operators of craft of less than 4 m (13'1") in length, including personal watercraft, will be required to have proof of competency.
- As of September 15, 2009, all operators will be required to have proof of competency.
How the Regulations Apply to Non-Residents
The Regulations apply to non-residents:
- If they operate their pleasure craft in Canadian waters for more than 45 consecutive days or,
- If they operate a pleasure craft that is licensed or registered in Canada (including rented or chartered boats).
- The Regulations do not apply to non-residents who operate their pleasure craft in Canadian waters for less than 45 consecutive days. Please note that a proof of residence will be required on board at all times.
Acceptable Proof of Competency for Non-Residents
For non-residents, proof of competency can take one of three forms:
- A Canadian-issued pleasure craft operator card.
- A completed boat rental safety check-list (for power-driven rental boats).
- An operator card or equivalent that meets the requirements of their state or country.
For more information, consult the Competency of Operators of Pleasure Craft Regulations.
Age - Horsepower Restrictions
The Age - Horsepower Restrictions prohibit operators under the age of 16 from operating recreational vessels above specified horsepower limits:
- Children under the age of 12 and not directly supervised by someone 16 years of age or older can operate a recreational vessel with no more than 10 hp (7.5 KW).
- Youth between 12 years of age and under 16 years of age and not directly supervised by someone 16 years of age or older can operate a recreational vessel with no more than 40 hp (30 KW).
- Only persons 16 years of age or older can operate a personal watercraft (PWC) regardless of supervision.
For more information, consult the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations.
Safety Equipment Requirements
Foreign pleasure craft (pleasure craft that are licensed or registered in a country other than Canada) need to comply with equipment requirements of the country in which the vessel is usually kept.
If you are not a resident of Canada and are using a pleasure craft licensed or registered in Canada, all of the required safety equipment must meet Canadian safety requirements. However, you may opt to bring your own PFD for your own personal use.
For more information, consult the Small Vessel Regulations.
Alcohol and Boating
Operation while impaired
Impaired driving, whether on land or water, is punishable under the Criminal Code of Canada.
Convictions for a first offence can result in:
- prohibition from operating a boat or motor vehicle
- seizure of the boat for a period of time
- possible prison terms
The laws and penalties for when a boater is considered impaired follow provincial and territorial driving laws.
Remember, provinces and territories also have their own rules on:
- impairment limits
- when you can drink alcohol on a boat
- how alcohol can be carried on board from one location to another
Contact your local, provincial or territorial law enforcement authorities for more information.
Shore-Line Speed Restrictions
When boating in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, please observe the unposted speed limit of 10km/h (6 mph) within 30 meters (100 ft) from shore. This limit applies on all waters within these provinces except where other limits are posted. These provisions do not apply in rivers less than 100 meters (300 ft) in width, canals and buoyed channels nor in the case of waterskiing, where the tow boat launches and drops off skiers by heading directly away from or into the shore.
In Quebec, shoreline speed restrictions apply on specific bodies of water and are usually posted.
For more information, consult the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations.
Help Keep Our Waterways Clean
There are restrictions against pumping sewage into all waters with the province of Ontario and some interior lakes of British Columbia and Manitoba. In these areas, a pleasure craft fitted with a toilet must also be fitted with a holding tank and if fitted with a piping system that allows the discharge of sewage directly overboard, then this discharge must be visibly disconnected. Sewage may only be discharged at shore pump-out facilities.
Portable toilets are illegal on Ontario waters.
The owner of a pleasure craft shall ensure that each toilet and the holding tank(s) is/are installed so that;
- The toilet and equipment are connected in such a manner that the equipment receives all toilet waste from the toilet.
- Equipment designed for the storage of human excrement is provided with a deck fitting and such connecting piping as is necessary for the removal of toilet waste by shore-based pumping equipment.
- No means of removal of toilet waste is provided other than the means mentioned above.
- All parts of the system for removal of toilet waste are congruent with one another and the boat.
For more information, consult Division 4 (Sewage) of the Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships and for Dangerous Chemicals.
Marine VHF Radio
Marine VHF radio is the recommended means of issuing a distress alert. If you have a marine VHF radio, keep it tuned to channel 16.
Know where you are at all times and be prepared to describe your location accurately. In case of grave and imminent danger (for example, your boat is taking on water and you are in danger of sinking or capsizing) use channel 16 and repeat "MAYDAY" three times. Then give the name of your vessel and its position, the nature of your problem and the type of assistance needed.
- Channel 16 is used for EMERGENCY and CALLING purposes only. If possible, take your conversation to a working frequency once you have called another vessel on channel 16.
- Anyone who uses a VHF radio must follow the procedures described in the VHF Radiotelephone Practices and Procedures Regulations. Currently, all VHF radio operators are required to have a Restricted Operator's Certificate (ROC) with maritime qualifications. Canada recognizes the American Certificate.
For more information on the ROC, contact the Canadian Power & Sail Squadrons (CPS) toll-free at: 1-888-277-2628.
Visitors from a country other than the United States should contact Industry Canada for more information.
Digital Selective Calling
Digital Selective Calling (DSC) is a new feature of VHF radio that provides an automatic digital distress signal. Limited DSC service is available in the following provinces: British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
For more information, contact your regional DSC (Marine Communications and Traffic Services) office:
- British Columbia (604) 775-8869
- Quebec (418) 648-4337
- Maritimes (NB, PEI, NS) (902) 426-2799
- Newfoundland (709) 772-4080
- Central & Arctic (ON, MB, SK, AB, NU, NWT) (519) 383-1940
With a cellular phone, you may contact Rescue Coordination Centers directly. Or, by dialing *16, you will contact the nearest Canadian Coast Guard Marine Communications and Traffic Services Center. Remember that a cellular phone is not a good substitute for a marine radio and it is not an approved means of issuing a distress call. Making a call does not alert other boaters close to you - those other boats could be the ones to help you first if they could hear you. Unlike VHF transmissions, cellular phone signals cannot be followed back to your location by rescuers. Contact your cellular provider to find out if you have access to the *16 service.
For more information contact your Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) Regional Office:
- Newfoundland (709) 772-0449
- Nova Scotia (902) 426-4961
- Québec (418) 775-0502
- Ontario (905) 336-4851
- British Columbia (250) 363-6347
Entering Canada by Boat (Customs)
Visitors entering Canada by boat should visit the Canada Border Services Agency for more information on Customs procedures.
If you will be entering Canada from the United States using a private pleasure craft, you may be interested in the NEXUS program.
For more information...
For more information or to download a copy of the Safe Boating Guide, please visit Contact the Office of Boating Safety