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The Culture of Sharing our Waterways

By: Rick Layzell

I remember as a kid our parents (usually my Mom) reminding us to play nice in the sandbox. We quickly learned to treat others with kindness, to not trash or disrespect the other kids’ toys and to make room for all the kids – even when the sandbox got crowded. We may not have known it but these were our first lessons about respecting others.


As many waterways begin to experience various forms of crowding and congestion, there’s an important reminder for all of us to ‘play nice in the sandbox’ – even when the ‘sand’ is water. Depending on where you boat there are multiple scenarios that create on water crowding and these can negatively affect an otherwise great experience for you and your crew.


Urban centers with active waterfront communities may experience crowds of eager onlookers on or near the docks, congestion can appear on the water with rental boats and a mix of human and powered watercraft, a vast array of operator experience and even the occasional anxious moment from overzealous boaters.


Cottage country creates the need to blend the desires for peace and quiet with the appetite to get the kids inspired to come up to the cottage for a few more years.


And most certainly, there’s the huge array of different kinds of boat and engine offerings – bow riders, fishing and pontoon boats, PWC’s, stand up paddle boards, kayaks, canoes, sail boats, cruisers, and on and on the list goes.

Areas like Toronto’s waterfront will deal with frequent crowding in the next fear years with over 1 million new residents forecasted to live within 1 kilometre of the shoreline. On sunny days there is a common desire to be on or near the water, and these are areas where boats and boaters with varying degrees of knowledge must live and cooperate in harmony.


Cottage country can be strained with multiple boats at each cottage dock, a myriad of operators, and an even wider range of skills. There’s the small utility boat for the kids, Mom & Dad’s day cruiser or luxury pontoon, the old tinny is often still on hand, as is a water sports boat and there are typically multiple SUP’s, paddle boats, canoes, and kayaks. And that’s just one cottage. Balancing passionate adult desire to rest peacefully on the dock (with their cottage neighbour only a stone's throw away) while the kids take their friends out for a rip or a late evening tow can be a delicate balance for all.


Understanding how noise carries from the water to the shore is another element for consideration. Just because you have a 1,000 watt sound system on board does not mean your neighbours want to hear it!


The solutions to managing congestion and maintaining peace and civility amongst boaters are vast and could seem daunting. But are they? A few simple reminders framed in communication, education & common sense with all of it wrapped in a bow of respect can be all we need.


Most experienced boaters enjoy sharing our passion and introducing new boaters to the sport. We all need to take time to talk to our friends before they hit the waves for their first solo ride. Young or old, new boaters cannot be expected to jump on a runabout, PWC or SUP and understand the rules. So take a few moments, share your passion, talk to them about respecting other boaters. Your quick investment of time will pay dividends with an overall better experience for your friends. Your neighbours will appreciate and respect your efforts and your friends will share in the best of boating with more laughs and great memories.


All types of watercraft (other than human powered or under 10 HP) and every operator needs to have their Pleasure Craft Operator’s Card or PCOC. If you are going to introduce some friends to the sport, then make sure they respect their role and guide them to take time to learn and earn their PCOC – before they get to the marina or cottage.


There is a huge appeal and desire to be on the water, to experience the freedom. Knowing that there are rules before you get there will make that experience even better.


Did you know?


All power boats (including sailboats when operating under power) must give way to sailboats and paddle craft. It’s a fact!

There are easy to remember rules for passing an oncoming vessel. Learn them here. In most of Canada there is a speed limit of 10 km/h (6 mph) within 30m (100 ft) of shore – this applies to all types of watercraft.


A great resource is the Office of Boating Safety which has quick info on your PCOC as well as a link to download Transport Canada’s Safe Boating Guide. There is an endless array of quality information here and the ideal time to do harness this education is before you hit the water.


If you find yourself struggling with handling your boat – you are not alone so don’t be ashamed! Be proactive and take an operator training course like those offered by boaterskills.ca.

For most of us we go boating for a few simple reasons – maybe you love to fish, cruise with your partner, watch your kids on tubes and water toys, or perhaps you take memorable journeys for weeks on end – all of this because you love being on the water spending time with friends and family, new and old.


Let common sense be your guide. Before you let ‘water rage’ take over your great memories of the water, step back and remember why you are there. Think about the sounds of the kids laughing, recall the first time you got up (after multiple face plants) on a set of water skis or a wakeboard, and reflect on the sunrises and sunsets. Let those thoughts fill your heart and warm your soul. They will invariably calm you down and ease your frustration when the lock channel is crowded or your favourite fishing spot is occupied by another angler.


Boating is an incredible sport for families, friends, and for creating lasting memories. Knowing that over 70% of the Earth's surface is water makes it hard to argue that there’s room for everyone. It’s up to boaters to learn the rules and to ‘play nice in the sandbox’. #tips #culture #sharedwaterways

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