Safe, Respectful Boating in Muskoka

  • Start a boat motor with straight-through exhaust pipes and true motor-heads will feel their adrenalin begin to flow. This is because the sound brings back to their minds a fast boat experience and reminds them of what it feels like to be in a boat with the motor turning a high pitch propeller.   

    But most of the world looks upon the sound of mega horsepower, as simply a loud noise.  As countries turn greener, the opponents of high decibel performance boats are becoming more vocal and regulations restricting performance boat sound levels by area are either already in place, or under consideration.

    The MLA’s perspective:

    Boats with through-hull exhaust and little or no muffling are a source of concern for many cottagers and other users of Muskoka’s waterways.

    Today, boats in Muskoka should have a muffler designed to eliminate excessive or unusual noise.  Boats with no muffler should direct exhaust through the propeller hub or underwater, unless the boat is more than five miles from shore.

    Outboards and inboard/outboard motors should direct exhaust through the propeller hub or below the cavitation plate

  • Personal watercraft are involved in a disproportionate share of boating accidents.  Used irresponsibly, they’re also a source of some controversy among the boating and waterfront communities.                  

    Operators of personal watercraft must be at least 16 years of age and have a Pleasure Craft Operators’ Card on board.  When towing, regulations require an operator, spotter and a seat available for each person under tow. 

    The MLA’s perspective: 

    Keep well away from small boats and people. Circling around boats, canoes, kayaks or swimmers poses a safety hazard.  Avoid repetitive circling or buzzing, especially as a courtesy to other boaters and nearby property owners

  • Boat Speeds & Wakes

    Speed limits are posted in kph on round white signs ringed in red. `No Wake` signs are similar, with a blue wavy line inside a red ring. Look for them near marinas, narrow sections, in canals, and along sensitive shorelines. Speeds are posted in kilometres per hour, which is roughly double the number of knots. If your speedometer is in miles per hour, refer to a speed chart to convert miles per hour (mph) to nautical miles per hour (knots) or kilometres per hour (kph or km/hr).

    In most provinces there is a 10 kph speed limit within 30 metres (100 feet) from shore. Fine is $125. Maximum fine is $500 or six months imprisonment. (Canada Shipping Act: Boating Restriction Regulations)

    The one exception to this speed limit is for boats pulling a water skier travelling perpendicular to shore to pull away or land the skier. This operation may also take place within an area designated by buoys where permitted. There are also exceptions in rivers that are less than 100 m in width, or in canals or buoyed channels, or any waters in which a different boating restriction applies.

    Under the Small Vessel Regulations rules governing waterskiing, the existing requirement to have spotter on board remains. In addition, there must be a seat available for each person being towed in case recovery is necessary. Only personal watercraft (PWCs) designed to carry three people can be used for towing waterskiers. Towing activities are not allowed in the period from one hour after sunset to sunrise.

    Contact the Canadian Coast Guard at 1-800-267-6687 or for more information.

    Plan your trip with leisure in mind since excess speed not only damages nearby shoreline and wildlife, but is hazardous to small boats and swimmers. Loons and their young are particularly vulnerable to wakes and props. Please slow down as you approach locks and bridges, and also while passing moored craft. After all, if you were in a hurry, you would take an airplane!

    How Boat Speed affects Wakes

    You are responsible for the wake of your vessel whether the boat is in a `no wake` zone or not. If your wake damages property or injures people you have broken the law. Slowing down is the oobvious solution, especially in narrow channels and near shore, but how you speed up and slow down is also important.

    Below `hull speed` (about 8 mph for a 10 metre boat), a boat makes very little wake -- the angled wave that is created by the bow and stern of the boat. As you increase speed beyond hull speed, the bow begins to rise and the wake from the bow begins to meet the wake from the stern, causing the combined wave to increase in height and volume. Both planing hulls (runabout) and displacement hulls (trawler) act in this way, but the planing hull can pass through `on step`, and plane at faster speed.

    Just before the boat begins to lift onto plane and level out (this may require trim tabs), even a small boat can capsize nearby canoes or wash away shoreline. Between hull speed and planing speed, you also use much more fuel with very little increase in speed, and creating a large wake. For most planing hulls, the most economical speeds are hull speed and full, level plane. Have a look behind occasionally, when you pass moored boats, to see how your wake affects other boats and shoreline. Wake affects increase dramatically if the boat is operating in shallow water. Near vertical breakwaters, the wave will reflects back off the vertical surface, creating even larger waves.

    Attempts by a displacement boat to exceed hull speed simply waster fuel and create large wakes. Displacement speeds are fuel-efficient for displacement hulls. Planing hulls get their best fuel economy on plane. Semi-planing hulls are built to exceed hull speed.

    How to handle oncoming wakes? Slow down and cross it at a slight angle. A wake will push you sideways, so don't stop. Never take a large wake abeam, to prevent taking water over the side. Injuries are also increasing. Yelling `wake` should alert everyone and prevent broken bones and teeth as well as preventing anyone falling overboard.


    The Muskoka Lakes Association wants to make sure that all Muskoka boaters are aware of important changes that have been made in the Ontario boating and alcohol laws.  Boat operators found drinking and boating now face the same new impaired driving penalties as those for drinking and driving a vehicle on the road.  
    The new penalties started May 1, 2009.  Boaters (and vehicle drivers) caught with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in what was formerly the 0.05 to 0.08 mg/l “warn” range now face immediate suspension of their vehicle driver’s licence.  With further infractions, mandatory alcohol education, alcohol treatment and Ignition Interlock programs will be imposed. 
    The  view the Ontario Ministry of Transportation website, showing the consequences and penalties, including 3, 7 or 30 day suspensions of a boat operator’s vehicle driver’s licence if they are found with a BAC in the range from 0.05 to 0.08 mg/l. 

  • The Lake of Bays Association has implemented a “Boat Right, Be Polite” campaign as an example of an intermediate step while efforts continue to get legislative and regulatory changes effected. The campaign has the following features directed at wake boats:

    • For boarding and surfing keep at least 300 metres off shore and in open water! The 30 metres from shore limit is not enough to dissipate your wake.
    • Don't swing your riders in front of other people’s docks.
    • Avoid multiple runs in the same area.

    In Muskoka a vessel must limit its speed to 9 KMH within 30 m of the shore or of a dock, pier, raft, floating platform or another vessel that is anchored, moored or underway, and does not apply to a vessel moving perpendicularly away from the shore while it is being used for water skiing or kite flying while the water skier or kite flyer is in the process of taking off. 

    Download "Boat Right, Be Polite" Brochure

    Download FOCA "Watching Your Wake"  

    The Muskoka Lakes Association, in conjunction with other organizations representing lakefront property owners, is facing increasing challenges in preserving at least a semblance of “quiet enjoyment” of those properties. In the past, concerted efforts have been successful in effecting legislative and regulatory changes to control noise, wake and safety issues associated with snowmobiles, personal watercraft and ski boats. These same issues, but now to a much greater degree, are associated with the latest in heavy-duty “toy” technology that is culminating in the presence of boats specifically designed and manufactured to create huge, continuous wakes.

    Below is a link to a pamphlet created by the Lake of the Woods District Property Owners Association that tries to address this issue. If you operate a wakeboard, please read this and consider following the recommendations presented, particularly staying at least 300 metres from shore. If you are a cottager that is adversely affected by a wakeboard operator, print this off and use it to discuss the problem with him or her.

    Some points to consider:

    • It is estimated that there are several hundred wake boats sold annually just on the three large Muskoka lakes!
    • Wakeboard boats are specifically designed to create a large wake to enable board tricks. The advent of wake surfing will even further exacerbate the problem, as the search for ever-bigger wakes will continue.
    • These boats contain up to 2000 GPM pumps with fillable bladders fitted into every nook and cranny of a wake boat, including the ski lockers, in order to sink the hull further into the water.
    • It is important to realize that the industry now has two championships, Wakeboarding and Wakesurfing!
    • To further these wakeboarding and wakesurfing activities, the boats are becoming larger and deeper and, with the advent of such devices as the hydraulically deployable wing under the transom, will create the huge continuous wakes particularly desired by surfers.
    • During wakeboarding and wakesurfing, the boat is operated at speeds to ensure that the maximum-sized wake possible is generated.
    • Present regulations concerning ski boats were designed to control the wake impinging on a shoreline, method of operation and noise emissions from these boats, and were largely successful. For instance, the 30 metres from shore restriction has been generally adequate to allow the average ski boat wake sufficient time and distance to dissipate. 30 metres is completely inadequate and inappropriate for the large disturbance caused by a wake boat.
    • Due to the size of the generated wake, and proximity to shore allowable under the present regulations, it is difficult at all times and dangerous at some times to allow children in the water at lakes edge when these boats generating huge wakes are present.
    • Large wakes have been proven to cause significant shoreline damage, through erosion of both natural habitats and shorelines and to buildings such as boathouses and to boats moored within them or alongside docks in the area of excessive waves.
    • Boat sound system advertising uses phrases such as “Let the whole lake hear those XXXX speakers” and “XXX’s Long Throw Technology projects the music much further than conventional speakers”.
    • Similar to the ban on open exhausts, no boat should be sold with a speaker system specifically designed or positioned to be heard outside of the boat. Likewise, no boat operator should be allowed to permit the use of such a speaker system within 8 km of shore (e.g., in the case of using open exhausts, the 5 mile limit covers all of Muskoka).
    • Police need to be able to respond specifically to excessive noise complaints and be provided with appropriate sound-measuring equipment to determine speaker noise levels outside of a boat.
    • There is a general habit of these big wave-inducing boats leaving their “home” area to inflict their presence somewhere else, generally related to the noise and wake action issues noted above.
    • Operators of wake-generating boats must be made aware that they are responsible for any damage caused by their wake. This would be a civil issue that is not covered under the existing regulations enforced by the police.