kayaking on a river

Safe Paddling: Legal Requirements for Canoeing and Kayaking in Canada

When you’re out on the water in Canada, whether it’s on a calm lake or a flowing river, there are important rules to follow for your safety. Canadian law says you need to have certain things with you when you’re paddling in boats like canoes and kayaks. It’s essential to know these rules and what you need to have on your boat before you start your journey on the water. It could mean the difference between life and death.

Life Jacket

Life jackets or PFDs (personal floatation devices) are required by law. The first way to stay safe on the water is to make sure you have life jackets or PFDs for everyone on board. Ensure each person has their own properly sized PFD approved by Transport Canada. Children should always wear PFDs. Boating without proper PFDs can result in fines of $200, plus an extra $100 for each person missing a life jacket.

Sounds Signaling Device

One essential item for paddlers of all kinds is a sound signaling device. While you may opt for a whistle, it’s important to choose one that is pealess. Having a pealess whistle means there’s no little ball of cork bouncing around in the air chamber, ensuring reliable operation even when submerged. A popular choice among paddlers is the Fox 40 whistle or similar models that can operate underwater. Attaching this whistle to your personal floatation device (PFD) is always a smart move.

Heaving Line

Paddlers should have a 15-meter buoyant heaving line, which can be made from floating rope with a buoyant object attached. It must be one continuous length of rope, not shorter pieces knotted together. Exceptions apply for paddleboarders and sit-on-top kayakers wearing approved PFDs. Having a readily accessible heaving line for emergencies is crucial, with throw bags recommended for effective rescue operations.


If you are paddling at night or in low visibility conditions, navigation lights are not required, but a watertight flashlight is necessary. However, you should consider using lights visible from all sides for enhanced safety during night paddling sessions.

Bailer or Manual Pump

Canoeists and kayakers must carry a bailer or manual bilge pump unless the boat cannot hold enough water to capsize. Paddleboarders and sit-on-top kayakers wearing PFDs are exempt from this requirement. Bailers must be made of metal or plastic, hold at least 750 mL, and have a 9 cm diameter opening. Transport Canada suggests using a modified plastic jug as a bailer.

Alcohol Consumption

Boating while under the influence of alcohol, recreational drugs, or prescription narcotics is illegal in Ontario and Canada. Doing so poses serious risks of injury or even death. Operation Dry Water, organized by the Canadian Safe Boating Council (CSBC) every summer, aims to raise awareness and reduce impaired boating incidents. Visit the CSBC website for comprehensive information on canoe and kayak regulations in Ontario and Canada.

Boating License

No need for a Pleasure Craft Operator Card when it comes to canoes, kayaks, or SUPs. If you’re paddling yourself, no courses or cards are required. Enjoy this privilege responsibly!


If you are paddling within sight of navigation marks, it is not a requirement for you to carry a magnetic compass (although they’re very handy to have on hand.)

When you’re enjoying Canadian waters, whether it’s a serene lake or a rushing river, safety is paramount. Canadian regulations outline specific requirements for paddlers in crafts like canoes and kayaks. Understanding these rules and ensuring you have the necessary equipment onboard before setting out is crucial for a safe journey. Failure to comply with these regulations could result in a $200 fine, so it’s essential to be prepared and prioritize safety on the water. We hope you have a safe summer!