How to Boat Safely in a Covid World

Wondering when (and if) you can get out on your boat this summer? Here's what you need to know about boating safely when lockdown lifts.

Recreational boating and fishing are a way of life in this country, with more than one in five Canadians owning at least one recreational boat. The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) estimates there are approximately 3 million active recreational boaters in Canada and Ontario accounts for the most active "water crafters’" in the country, with 40% of residents participating in boating and watercraft activities. 

Soon Ontario waters will be open again—what's your safe boating plan for summer? 

Recent public health restrictions enacted by Ontario's government during the pandemic, however, have put a damper on the water activities we know and love. So what are the current restrictions on boating in Ontario, when will they lift, and what will boating be like this summer? Will it be safe?

As we muddle our way through the dreaded third wave, with light starting to appear at the end of the tunnel, here is what you should know about boating this summer.

Current restrictions: can you go boating during Ontario lockdown? 

According to the April 17th announcement, marinas in the province are closed for recreational boating except for when “repairing or servicing a boat or other watercraft.” This rule also does not include watercraft used by individuals to access their place of residence, to support government operations or services, or support the transportation of items by commercial barges. Essentially, accessing a public marina for boating enjoyment such as fishing is off-limits until further notice.

Petition argues boating is safe

This announcement did not go over well with boaters! A petition is circulating which demands the province remove all restrictions on outdoor activities including boating. Outdoor fresh air activities like being on the water, this group argues, are safe activities at a time when people need a break from the confines of their own home.

Lodges largely unaffected

Locals with water access can still enjoy a lakeside paddle. 

The province’s marina closure certainly affects hoards of boaters in the south, but Ontario lodges up north which house their own craft, on their own privately run properties, are largely unaffected. 

Dave Smetana, owner of Olive the Lake Lodge on Marten River, has continued to run his business undaunted throughout the pandemic. “We have a ton of bear hunters booked,” says Smetana of the lodge's positive outlook. With ever-changing rules and regulations, this lodge owner is crossing his fingers that everything will work out provided they continue to abide by and enforce the rules. Luckily, access to the water is not really an issue in this part of the province. Dave has a selection of boats available for his hunting and fishing clientele.  

Another lodge that prides itself on water access is located on the shores of the fabled Mattawa River—the Mattawa River Resort in Ontario’s “near north." All the canoes and kayaks are free for guests to use, and there is more than ample water in the Mighty Mattawa to whet anyone’s appetite. Who knows, perhaps Big Joe Mufferaw himself might be around the next bend, doing some logging. 

The resort’s director of marketing, Dave Schiff, explains how watercraft are always available for clients’ use. Dave was also excited to share news of the lodge’s new project, soon coming to fruition. “We are currently building the first stage of Cardinal Campground, a new RV Park on our property that, once complete, will hold approximately 150 sites,” Schiff explains. “We are taking bookings for summer and our boats are available to guests anytime, and we are also working on other options for people who like to fish.”  Like other lodges in Ontario, Mattawa River Resort is doing what they can within the limits of Covid, to offer clientele the chance to enjoy water activities. 

Ontario Boating Directory

Once Ontario’s stay-at-home order is lifted and marinas are open for business, boaters and anglers will be heading to the lake, or river, eager to get back on the water. The Ontario Boating Directory is a wonderful resource to have, and use this summer for searching products or services. The Boating Directory is a great digital online tool, also available in an interactive mobile app version, with a printed version on its way.  “We are very proud of the new Directory,” said Rick Layzell, CEO of Boating Ontario. “The variety of available formats easily supports boaters’ desire to have marina information at their fingertips.” He added

Boating safety during covid and always

Boating this summer will require paying attention to both covid safety protocols as well as regular boating regulations.

  • Follow the public health guidelines for your region.
  • Limit the number of people on your boat.
  • Keep your distance from other groups while at the dock and fuelling up.
  • Wash your hands and wear a face covering if you need to be indoors.

The pandemic aside, safe boating is always a concern and there are requirements every boater should know. Ensure your craft is seaworthy by checking for leaks or damage to the hull. Carry a tool kit, safety flares, a whistle, life jacket, life ropes, and other equipment required by law for your size boat. While on the water after dark, ensure your lights are functional and always carry a flashlight.  Consult the Canadian Coastguard Guidelines for details on essential safety equipment, and for more information call the Boating Safety line 1 (800) 267-6687.

Additional training

Anyone planning to operate a motorboat over 18-feet in length, and over 75 horsepower, should enroll in a boating course.  Powerboat training covers such topics as anchoring, docking, fueling, boating maneuvers, troubleshooting, and boating safety. By completing the Canadian Yachting Association (CYA) Power Boating Certification, you learn boating skills to last a lifetime.  Sail Canada offers more info on boating courses available. 

If you're hooked on boating, don't despair. This summer promises a return to the place we love best. 

Stay safe this summer and enjoy Ontario’s beautiful lakes and rivers.

About Jeff Morrison

Jeff Morrison is an award-winning outdoor writer, book author, and nationally-syndicated newspaper and magazine columnist.

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