On charted rivers, the available information can help you make safety and equipment decisions.

The following article is by Mark King. It will appear in our upcoming Power Boating Canada Volume 36 Number 1. Want to subscribe for future issues? Click here!
While the Safe Boating Guide published by Transport Canada outlines the safety equipment that must be on board every type of pleasure craft, the concerned skipper should always move the discussion forward by gearing their safety equipment to the type of cruising they will undertake.
It should always be remembered that the Transport Canada guidelines are minimum standards and not necessarily a place to stop while equipping your boat. One of the major factors you should consider when reviewing your safety gear is the type of cruising you will be undertaking and the risks and challenges that go along with that.
As well as more gear, you may need to be mindful of certain items of concern in the waters on which you are cruising, be they rivers and canals, lakes, or the open ocean.
Let us review these.
Rivers and canals, while seemingly easy and safe to navigate, present issues that are in many ways unique to their location. Whether they are smaller rivers or canals such as the Trent or the Severn in Ontario or the St. Lawrence in Ontario and Quebec, each river system must be navigated on its own. There are charted and uncharted rivers throughout Canada and while charted rivers will offer much of the necessary information to the pleasure boater – if they are paying attention – uncharted rivers will require special attention. Rivers and canals can be shallow in places and water depth is always a concern. Hazards may be marked, or they may not be marked so the prudent skipper will keep an open eye out for telltale signs of underwater obstructions.
It is reasonable to assume that some sort of plan and gear should be in place in case the unexpected occurs and the boat runs aground or hits an obstruction. Some way to patch a hole or get the boat off a shoal should be planned. Blind curves often combined with narrow passageways are frequent and require special attention.
For example, on the Rideau Canal in Ontario there are several of these and the prudent skipper will keep an ear tuned to the VHF to hear any calls from larger vessels already in the channel that they will need to avoid. Shoreline obstacles in many smaller rivers and canals can also present sudden issues for boats. Swimmers, boats at anchor, fishermen, divers, and other recreational users could also be present. If you plan to anchor along a river or canal it can be wise to carry both bow and stern anchors to ensure you do not swing out into the traffic portion of the waterway.
On larger rivers such as the St. Lawrence many of these issues found on smaller rivers are not as concerning but they also come with their own set of hazards, such as international shipping, tour boats, construction, and many other users.
Weather related issues may not be as much of a problem on smaller rivers, but you should always be mindful of the expected weather on your cruise. While minimum equipment may be okay when you are navigating close to shore, you should spend some time realizing what you might face while cruising before you head out.
Inland lakes present many of the same challenges that will be faced on rivers especially on uncharted lakes. Weather is more of a concern as windy conditions can present unexpectedly high and choppy waves. Lake Simcoe on the Trent-Severn waterway is a prime example of a lake that can become extremely angry in a wind. If you are going to be out of sight of land you should consider adding a GPS or a similar navigation aid to your equipment list.
Extra flares may come in handy and extra anchor rode with chain to hold the anchor flat along the bottom, must be considered. Life jackets instead of PFDs are better to hold people’s heads out of the water in an emergency where people can become separated from each other in bad weather.
The wary skipper is again mindful of other recreational users of the lake and if they are on an uncharted lake, it pays to keep a close watch for underwater obstacles. Sometimes local knowledge is available at marinas and fishing suppliers to aid your navigation on these lakes without navigation aids and charts. Some form of dinghy is probably a good idea if you will be out of sight of shore for any length of time.
The ocean presents its own risks, and any prudent skipper will spend some time thinking about what is aboard before heading out. As well as items listed above, ocean travellers must consider food and water supplies. Water is especially critical. For example, any vessel venturing out into the ocean should carry two litres of fresh water for every person on board for every day it plans to be out of sight of land. EPIRBs and added signaling devices are another consideration for ocean going vessels as well as a quality dinghy or life raft and the best life jackets available. Navigation devices, heavy weather planning and back-up systems should be reviewed.
While your vessel may be properly equipped according to Transport Canada guidelines, it may not be safe enough for your boating experience. It pays to take some time to think about where you will be travelling and what you might occur unexpectedly.