Early Season Boating: Worth the Extra Layer!

Quiet lakes, quiet launches, and no line-ups. Beat the crowds and boat on Lake Simcoe now.

The snow has melted. The ice is gone. The trees are beginning to show the first signs of bloom. Springtime in Ontario is a spectacular time of year. Nature is waking up from its winter nap and everything is showing signs of new life, including a few enthusiastic boaters. 

Most owners haven't even begun to think about getting their boats out of storage, never mind out on the water. It makes sense. The boating season in Ontario doesn't kick-off until the May long weekend, when the weather is warmer and the marinas are open.

Nonetheless, there are a few enthusiasts who are already on the water. I'm one of them. I love boating in the off-season. Early spring and late fall are some of the best times to enjoy boating. It's not just a summer sport.

ENjoy a provincial Park to Yourself

Wanting to try something different this year, I asked my fellow boaters about their favourite spots for early season boating. One place kept coming up: Sibbald Point Provincial Park on the southern shore of Lake Simcoe

Lake Simcoe is one of my absolute favourite boating destinations in Ontario. I lived in the City of Barrie for some years and have logged countless hours on Simcoe.

In all that time, I had never visited Sibbald Point. It's just over an hour southeast of Barrie and less than two hours from downtown Toronto. This means the park is packed from Canada Day to Labour Day. You wouldn't catch me anywhere near the place in the summer. 

Early spring is a different story. There are very few visitors enjoying the park. Sibbald Point is open for day use year-round, but has limited staff this early in the season. No attendants are on duty at the gate. An automated machine allows visitors to purchase a pass and access the park.

Make sure you stop and pay the fee. Despite being there on a Thursday afternoon, in late April, the park was well patrolled. We spotted three different Conservation Officers and two Ontario Parks vehicles making their rounds. Don't forget to display your park pass on your dashboard. Forget, and you're likely to find an unwelcome gift under your windshield wiper when you get back to the dock.

Speaking of docks, the launch facilities at Sibbald Point are excellent. The boat ramp is spacious. One of the widest I've seen, capable of launching half a dozen boats at the same time. The docks are in good repair and there is plenty of parking. 

Jackson's Point

Aside from the boat launch, Sibbald Point has no marina facilities not unusual for a provincial park. However, just a short boat ride west of the park is the town of Jacksons Point. It's home to Bonnie Boats; a full-service marine facility with a fuel dock

If you're looking for overnight accommodations and don't enjoy the idea of spring camping (opens May 12) at one of Sibbald Point's 965 sites, there are a few bed-and-breakfast establishments in Jacksons Point, including Whispering Pines and Gypsy by the Lake B & B. Or if you really want to treat yourself, book a stay at the Briars Golf Resort and Spa. There are also several eateries within easy walking distance from the docks. 

Get away to "another world on Lake Simcoe" at
the Briars

Back out on the water, we were enjoying the spectacular weather. We're not strangers to early season boating. The packing list for our day trip included sweaters, toques, and gloves. We left them all in the truck. The temperature was 28° C and it felt like late June out on the water. 

The forecast was calling for thunderstorms late in the day, but the sun was still shining at 4 pm when we packed up.

We were also fortunate to have a day with low wind. Lake Simcoe is a big body of water and can present some challenges. The lake can blow up in a hurry. We had a southerly wind, and launched on the south shore, so the water was calm.  

Buoy at Jackson's Point

We did venture further out into the lake to watch the ferry cross over to Georgina Island. The water got rougher and the spray coming over the gunnels was ice cold. A sharp reminder that low water temperature is a big safety concern with early season boating. The sun may be shining, the air may be warm, but the water is freezing cold.

Remember, this lake had ice in it only a few weeks ago. It's not a deal-breaker for most boaters, including the two personal watercraft we saw ripping around the lake. It's something to keep in mind for safe boating.

Watching Ontario's spring emerge from the waters of Lake Simcoe

Besides the PWCs, there were several other boaters out enjoying the day. A handful of fishing boats anchored off the shoals and inside the marina breakwaters. They were chasing yellow perch. We wet a couple of lines ourselves, but I hope they all had better luck than we did. Good thing this wasn't a fishing trip. 

If you're the type of enthusiastic boater who can't wait to get out on the water, take a look at Sibbald Point Provincial Park. It's an ideal spot for a quiet and relaxing day of boating, even this early in the season.

About Steve Sansford

Steve has spent most of his life in and around boats. His father was a marine mechanic and Steve studied Marine Navigation in college. He currently holds several Transport Canada navigation and safety ratings. His work has been published in Powerboating Canada magazine and various other online outlets. Check out his Instagram feed for updates on his latest adventures.

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