Waterways to Discover

Want to really get away from it all? Ontario has beautiful waterways, friendly people and truly uninhabited areas.

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Tim and Diane Vandersall are avid personal watercraft riders from Ohio. I first ran into this personable couple in Killarney, Ontario in 2011 while they were in the middle of a solo adventure around the North Channel and Manitoulin Island. Unperturbed by riding the big and unfamiliar water alone on their 2-up Sea Doo GTX 155, Tim and Diane had launched in Michigan for their Lake Huron tour. 

I caught up with them again when Tim and Diane brought their sons, Tyler and Joe, to join us this summer for family rides through Kingston and the 1000 Islands, and on the Upper and Lower Ottawa River. During our five-day excursion, they rode a 2009 Sea Doo GTX 155 and a 2011 Sea Doo GTX 155. We chatted afterwards about their perspective as Americans coming to jet ski* in Ontario, and here’s what they said in their own words…

*Note to our Canadian readers: most Americans call personal watercraft “jet skis” or “skis,” not PWCs.

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Where have you jet skied in Ontario already?  

In 2009, we crossed the western basin of Lake Erie and travelled up the Detroit River through Lake St Clair to Sarnia, Ontario and back, with overnight stops in Windsor, Leamington, and Pelee Island. We have returned to Pelee Island and Amherstburg several times in the last five years. In 2011, we jet skied a loop around the North Channel of Lake Huron, from Detour Village, Michigan to Killarney, Ontario and back.

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What do you like about jet ski riding in Ontario?  

First of all, the people have been awesome! We usually find that people on or near the water are pretty cool and very helpful, but Canadians have taken it to another level for us on our trips. A close second is the scenery. Everywhere in Ontario that we have seen on our jet skis has a unique beauty. And third is the remoteness of the waters where we have been in Ontario. In our home of Ohio, more often than not you will find a lot of boats, people, towns and industry wherever you boat. In Ontario, we can really “get away from it all” and enjoy nature with large areas of uninhabited, clean waters.

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What’s your reaction to the Kingston, 1000 Islands and Ottawa River trip we just did?

It truly was an adventure we all enjoyed. Where else can you see castles, waterfalls, wildlife, dams, bridges, locks, beautiful historic buildings, and beautiful scenery, all from a jet ski? We also really enjoyed the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes in Kingston and Fort Henry. While trailering the jet skis, we admired the quaint little towns and the old buildings along the way. This really was a trip the kids won't forget. Nor will any of us forget the wonderful people we got to meet and the new friendships we have formed. We will most certainly be back!

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How easy was it for you to cross the border into Ontario and what do you need to do to bring your jet skis with you?  

It was very easy. It took us only about 20 minutes total to cross into Ontario. At the checkpoint, the agent was friendly and efficient. We needed our passports for the adults and birth certificates for our two boys. We also had our US driver’s licenses, car registration and proof of insurance, and US jet ski registrations and insurance proof with us. The agent wanted to know simply what we were going to do in Canada, where we were going, what items we were bringing with us, and if we were planning on selling our jet skis in Canada.

What about crossing the border back into the US – any issues there?  

The line into the US was longer and slower for some unknown reason. They asked the same types of questions and checked our citizenship papers. It took about 45 minutes to cross at the Thousand Islands area.

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What benefits are there for Americans coming to Ontario? 

Currently, the US dollar is very strong in Ontario, making everything a bargain for US visitors. Ontario offers the typical Midwest American visitor a great opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in America. As you drive further and further north in Ontario, and as you motor across the Ontario waters on your jet ski, you can feel your stress leaving you.

How do Ontario's variety and number of jet ski riding opportunities compare with other places?  

All winter long, I like to look at possible places to tour with our jet skis and have studied a lot of waters in the U.S. and Canada. Ontario offers everything from half-day rides to overnighters to weeklong trips, as we did in the North Channel in 2011. The Ontario rides also vary from small rivers to large lakes, depending on how adventurous you want to be. The U.S. offers many of these variations as well, but in our experience, one would expect to see more people and boat traffic on most U.S. waterways.

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How easy is it for a visitor to find your way around in Ontario, to explore and discover other things to do?  

Very easy. Google Maps or any GPS work great for the most part. We found that in order to save on costly international cell phone charges, turning the data off of our phones was a necessity. This meant that we would have to look up our next intended road destination when we had Wi-Fi and internet, and then plug that destination into Maps before we left the Wi-Fi spot. As with anywhere in North America, the further north that we travelled, the more remote and less congested the roads became. On the water, a GPS or location-equipped device is important, especially in the big waters such as the North Channel, where getting lost or running out of fuel is a real possibility if you’re not careful.

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What advice would you give to Americans coming here to ride?  

First of all, I would say give it a try and you won’t be sorry. There are a multitude of internet resources for researching where to ride. Use them. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew, and I would probably start off with smaller bodies of water and go bigger with added experience

Also, the larger the body of water, the more important it is to travel with friends. We learned on the North Channel that many parts of Canada are very large and remote, and that a breakdown could mean big trouble without others who can help. If you are travelling solo, emergency items such as matches, food, water, a VHF radio and even a blanket or tent would be a great idea. Dry bags securely strapped onto the back of our jet skis gives us added storage for items like this. Also a good set of tools, including a pry bar for removing objects from the jet intake is a good idea.  

And more than one navigation device is important. In the North Channel, we used an iPad in a waterproof case, strapped to the handlebars – that was invaluable! Many apps exist for this purpose. Also, as with any long jet ski tour, plan ahead for your fuel stops and overnights. We like to bring a listing of hotels with phone numbers on our trips, and call ahead for reservations a day in advance as weather permits. Also, although we have not practiced this ourselves, I would love to bring a couple of fishing poles and tackle, and be able to take some extra time along the jet ski route to drop a line in when the mood hits. And lastly, we have learned to never set your plans in stone. Check the weather consistently and adjust your plans accordingly.

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Would you consider Ontario to be a family-friendly destination for jet ski riding?

Absolutely! Ontario is one of our favorite places to go with our family. The natural beauty, moderate summer temperatures and wonderful friendly people make Ontario a great place to ride with our kids. Touring by water gives one such a unique perspective. The scenery was so beautiful and the water so clear. We enjoyed the views and loved seeing the loons and the bald eagle. The kids and I kept an eye out for any wildlife and had fun watching for a bear. The kids really enjoyed being on the water, swimming, and the scenery.  

Where did find out about riding in Ontario? What websites do you use?  

Weekending on Lake Erie in the summers, we always wondered what was across the lake on the Ontario side. We researched that question online, which led to our first trip in 2009 to Sarnia. Discussions with other boaters, American and Canadian alike, led to our subsequent trips to Ontario. For trip planning, I like to use ActiveCaptain.com as the main trip-planning tool. This site shows you marinas, fuel stops, and dangers on the water and basically lets you know if a jet ski trip is doable or not, based on distances between fuel stops. After that and when underway, Active Captain is also our prime navigational tool. Google Maps is also used to find food and lodging along the route, as well as other visitor information for an area where we may stop. And websites for each of the towns or cities that we visit are also very useful if available. Americans should also check out The Intrepid Cottager and the Ontario Powersports sites for more ride info and tips.

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Where do plan to ride in Ontario next?  

We aren’t sure yet. In our experience, we would prefer to travel in a loop or at least in a one-way route. In this way, you always are seeing something new every day and not backtracking. Looping is the best because you end up where your vehicle is. This is only possible on larger bodies of water. The one-way trip requires some logistics in planning how to get your vehicles to the ending point of your trip, or your jet skis to your vehicles. We want to see more of the St. Lawrence Seaway, Georgian Bay and the Lake Superior region for sure. We’re open to suggestions and looking for options!

About Craig Nicholson—The Intrepid Cottager

Popularly known in the summer as “The Intrepid Cottager,” Craig Nicholson is a freelance journalist, writer and communications consultant who specializes in motorized recreational activities, including personal watercraft. As an avid Sea-Doo rider, Craig logs over 100 hours and 3,000 kilometres (1,800 miles) on the water most summers on many waterways in Ontario and Quebec. His one-of-a-kind Intrepid Cottager website features his Sea Doo tour articles, PWC riding tips, product reviews and comment.

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