Canadian Safe Boating Course

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Transport Canada has made changes to the online exam process and study guide. The old Boater Exam boating license course and test was discontinued on April 15th, 2011. Take the NEW Canadian Online Boating Course! The course material below remains as a resource for all who boat on Canadian waters—particularly experienced boaters who already have their Pleasure Craft Operator Card.


Chapter 1: Safe Boating Regulations, Acts, and Codes

The operation of a pleasure craft is subject to several sets of legislation which govern everything from life jackets to required markings and rules to avoid collisions. The specific acts and regulations which pleasure craft operators need to concern themselves are:

Canada Shipping Act and the Criminal Code of Canada

  • Watch for signals that indicate distress and need of assistance
  • Render assistance to every person who is found at sea and in danger of being lost...without posing serious danger to their own craft and the persons on board
  • Stop and offer assistance when the operator is involved in an accident
  • Must not operate boat in a dangerous manner
  • Must keep watch on person towed
  • Cannot tow person after dark
  • Cannot drive a craft that is un seaworthy
  • Cannot drive craft under the influence (alcohol, drugs etc..)
  • Cannot send false messages
  • Cannot interfere with marine signals.  It is illegal to:  Alter, remove, conceal or anchor to nautical aids

Small Vessel Regulations

  • The operator of a pleasure craft must carry specific safety equipment on board their vessel.  The type and amount of equipment is determined by the size of the craft.
  • The operator of a pleasure craft must ensure that all required equipment for their vessel is maintained in proper working order.
  • The operator must ensure that the vessel is properly licensed.  (All vessels with motors 10 HP and over must be licensed)
  • The license numbers or letters must comply with the requirements specified in the Small Vessel Regulations, Licensing of Vessels and Marking of Vessels.
  • Regulations pertaining to Engine Power and Load Capacity
  • Regulations regarding PFD’s and Life jackets
  • Regulations regarding pyrotechnic distress signals.  Pyrotechnic distress signals must be approved by “Department of Transport Canada”.  These distress signals are no longer considered to be approved, if more than 4 years has elapsed from the date of manufacture.  This date is clearly marked on the distress signal.
  • Regulations regarding required contents for emergency kits.

The Contraventions Act

The Contraventions Act, which received Royal Assent in October 1992, was not proclaimed in force until August 1, 1996, pending development of a cost-effective ticketing scheme for handling minor federal offences such as speeding on federal roads and boating without the proper safety equipment on board.  Using existing provincial and territorial schemes, rather than creating a federal scheme for ticketing federal offences, will help to reduce costs associated with the administration of justice and eliminate overlap and duplication. This change is intended to reduce the load on the court system.  As with any ticket, the offender will have the option of pleading guilty and making payment to the competent authorities or to plead not guilty and going to court

Boating Restriction Regulations


Boating Restriction Regulations are specific to certain waters and waterways in Canada. They specify:

  • Prohibited vessel types on a given waterway
  • Standardized speed limits on a given waterway
  • Maximum engine horsepower on a given waterway
  • Power vessel restriction (Lac Phillipe .. no motors allowed etc..)
  • Water skiing restrictions .. and many others.

Boating Restriction Regulations can also be passed and enforced by local municipal governments, therefore, it's important to pay close attention to all signs encountered while boating.

How do you read a restriction sign?

There are five types of shapes for the restriction signs. The frame colour is international orange. Signs with a section with a green border indicate that a special condition applies to the restriction (for example, the day/time an activity is allowed). The symbol on the sign indicates the type of restriction which applies. If the sign is arrow-shaped, the restriction applies in the direction pointed by the arrow.


No internal combustion or steam engine
No internal combustion or steam engine is permitted
Power limit
Power limit
Standardized speed limit
Standardized speed limit
(normally 5,10,25,40,55)
No boats
No boats
No power driven vessels
No power driven vessels in the direction indicated by the arrow
No skiing north of the sign
No skiing north of the sign
No power vessels between the hours and days in red
No power vessels between
the hours and days in red

Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations

The operator of a pleasure craft not propelled by oars shall have on board, in respect of each area in which the craft is to be navigated, as described in the Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations, the most recent editions of:

  • The largest scale charts
  • The required publications
  • The required documents
  • UNLESS ... the vessel is under 100 tonnes or the operator is familiar with the waterway

Collision Regulations

  • These are International regulations to prevent collisions at sea and the Canadian modifications. They apply to the high seas and in all waters connected to the high seas that are considered to be navigable. They define common terms (i.e. Port, starboard, stern, bow, draft etc..)
  • They state that .. “the operator of pleasure power driven craft shall take early and substantial action to keep well clear of a vessel engaged in fishing, or a sailing vessel.
  • They state that .. “the operator of a pleasure sailing craft shall take early and substantial action to keep well clear of a vessel engaged in fishing.
  • They set common rules for power driven vessels, sailing vessels, fishing vessels, etc...The rules are designed so that all operators know what is required of them and to give them knowledge of what the approaching vessel is going to do.
  • These regulations require that you keep a proper lookout by sight and hearing to prevent accidents
  • They require that you use all available means to avoid accidents .. adjust speed, keep well clear, exhibit vigilance while operating craft etc..
  • They state that the following factors must be taken into account when determining a safe speed:

    • the state of visibility
    • the traffic density including concentrations of fishing or other vessels
    • state of the wind
    • sea and current
    • proximity to navigational hazards

  • They specify that boats less than 20 metres shall not impede the passage of a large craft in a narrow channel .. regardless of who has the defined right of way
  • Collision regulations define who has the right of way when motor boat meets motor boat .. when motor boat meets sailboat .. when sailboat meets sailboat .. when sail or motor boat meets fishing boat etc..
  • Collision Regulations require the boat with the right of way to maintain their course and speed
  • They require the operator of the craft to adjust their speed according to visibility, traffic density, wind and state of the water and proximity to navigational hazards.
  • They make boaters responsible for your own wake or wash. If your wake causes a canoe or rowboat to capsize .. you are responsible .. be aware of where you are .. watch for swimmers!
  • Collision Regulations require that you stay clear of a boat showing Code of Signals “A” – which indicates that they have a “diver down”. You are legally required to slow down and steer clear.
  • They explain required sound and light signals. (I.e. sound one long sound immediately followed by one short when visibility is reduced)
  • They define distress signals so all boaters recognize them
  • They cover other required equipment which is pertinent to specific sizes of vessels (i.e. passive radar reflectors etc.)

As a pleasure craft operator, you must be aware of the differing factors that can affect you and your passengers.  Some of these factors are:

Action Effect
Motion of the pleasure craft Dizziness and nausea
Sunlight eyesight, dehydration, sunburn or sunstroke
Waves balance, dizziness and nausea
Wind dehydration, hypothermia, balance
Sound enginenoise and natural water noise reduce hearing acuity
Alcohol dizziness, nausea, poor judgement

As a responsible pleasure craft operator, it is important to remember that we share the waterways with many different and varied activities.  You must be aware of:

  • swimmers and properties
  • adjust the speed of your craft so that the draw-off and wave disturbance generated by the passage of your craft does not cause injury to persons, erosion of the shoreline or damage to others properties
  • know and obey Collision Regulations
  • use courtesy and common sense so as not to create a hazard, a threat, a stress or an irritant to themselves, to others, to the environment or to wildlife.

One of the most important thing that a boater should do before heading out in their pleasure craft is to check the weather forecast.  This can be done quite accurately and effectively by using the following sources:

  • personal observations...(does it look like rain?)
  • newspapers
  • radio
  • television weather channel
  • radiotelephones
  • Environment Canada

Weather forecasts in Canada are described using the following terms which describe anticipated wind conditions:

Term Description
Light Winds wind speeds less than 12 knots
Moderate Winds wind speeds in the range of 12 to 19 knots
Strong Winds sustained wind speeds int he range of 20 to 33 knots
Small Craft Warning sustained wind speeds in the range of 20 to 33 knots
Gale Warning sustained wind speeds in the range of 34 to 47 knots
Storm Warning sustained wind speeds in the range of 48 to 63 knots
Hurricane Warning sustained wing speeds in the range of 64 knots or more

It is extremely important for all operators to check the weather forecast prior to departure to avoid putting the craft and persons on board at risk.

There are also numerous potential local hazards that should be considered before departure as well. Some of these could include:

  • low-head dams
  • rapids
  • sudden winds
  • tides
  • currents
  • white water
  • overhead cables
  • underwater cables
  • bridges
  • rapid build up of high wave conditions

Ensure that you are equipped with the most recent Nautical Chart for the areas in which you will be operating your craft.



Trip Plans

Another useful safety measure is filing a trip plan. Before heading out, the operator of a pleasure craft should complete a thorough trip plan and file it with a responsible person who is familiar with the instructions to follow in case of emergency. During the trip, the plan should be updated to avoid an unnecessary call for help should you decide to deviate from your original plan. Filing a trip plan will assist rescuers when it is necessary to initiate a call for search and rescue in case of emergency.

The trip plan should contain the following information:


  • name and registration number of craft
  • type of craft .. sailing or power driven
  • name, address and phone # of owner
  • number of persons on board
  • size, type and colour of craft
  • engine type (inboard, outboard)
  • distinguishing features of craft
  • type of radiotelephone and channel monitored
  • safety equipment on board
  • emergency instructions
  • trip description: departure time, return time, and proposed route

Pre-departure Checklist

Another helpful tip is to make and fill-out a checklist of all required equipment and supplies prior to leaving the dock. This will help to avoid situations which could lead to unnecessary emergencies, (such as running out of fuel, dehydration, hypothermia etc).

Emergency Kit

An emergency kit is an item that is often overlooked when equipping a pleasure craft. These items could be kept in a plastic bag or a sealable watertight plastic container of sufficient size.

This kit should include:

  • a flashlight
  • a whistle
  • a knife
  • a first aid kit
  • emergency rations
  • drinking water
  • dry clothing.
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