The Toronto Police Service is committed to public safety, including on Toronto’s rivers, lakes, creeks and ponds, which can be dangerous any time of the year.
Whenever you are on or near water, such as a lake, river, creek or pond, learn to recognize hazards, take precautions, and know what to do if an incident occurs to prevent tragic and avoidable water-related injuries or fatalities.
This webpage provides information about how to prepare for a safe day on the water and tips to stay safe on Lake Ontario because it is more like an inland ocean than a typical “cottage country” lake.
We hope the tips and information will help you prepare for an emergency on the water.
Lifejackets save Lives
Wear your lifejacket or Personal Floatation Device (PFD) whenever you are on the water.
In 2022, 90 per cent of Canadians who drowned while boating were not wearing their lifejacket, or wore it incorrectly.
With many styles of lifejackets and PFDs to choose from it is easy to find a lifejacket or PFD that suits your favourite water activity. Select a lifejacket or PFD that fits correctly you are comfortable wearing whenever you are on the water.
Transport Canada Choosing a Lifejacket webpage
Cold Water Shock
Lake Ontario is always cold!
Many people think Lake Ontario is warm in the summer, but it is always cold. The water changes daily because of Lake Ontario’s large size and depth (of up to 800 feet).
Anyone who unexpectedly falls into Lake Ontario will experience cold temperatures because the colder water near the bottom of the lake turns over to the surface.
Cold water can dramatically affect your ability to swim or stay afloat. The best swimmers can experience the debilitating effects of a sudden cold-water immersion, also known as “cold shock.” Wearing your lifejacket or PFD is your best chance to survive an accidental cold-water immersion.
If you are experiencing a cold shock, you must keep your airway clear or run the risk of drowning. During that time, concentrate on staying calm, and getting control of your breathing. Wearing a lifejacket during this phase is critically important to keep you afloat and breathing. Cold shock will pass in about one minute.
In the last few years, Lake Ontario has become more popular than ever for recreational activities, especially in the warmer weather. Always be aware of your surroundings and other people on the water to keep yourself and others safe.
Do not treat Lake Ontario as a typical “cottage country” lake. As one of the five Great Lakes, Lake Ontario should be treated differently because of its large size, deep water, cold temperatures and unpredictable behavior because of wind and weather changes, which can create extreme conditions. Whether you are on Lake Ontario using a boat, canoe, kayak or paddleboard, or swimming in the water, prepare for rough water conditions and the continuous change of weather and waves.
Be aware of the water you are planning to boat on and know the size of your freeboard. It is common to see a swell of one-to-two meter waves on Lake Ontario. A freeboard that is less than one meter is at a greater risk to take on water in rough conditions on Lake Ontario. To measure your freeboard, it is the distance between the water surface and the working deck of the vessel. If the deck edge goes under the water when the vessel heels, it is at a greater danger of capsizing.
Since 2015, the Ontario Provincial Police reported that small recreational vessels (under six metres in length) were being used in 85.3 per cent of marine fatalities.
All small watercraft must keep clear of all commercial traffic underway, whether it be cargo ships, tug boats or ferries.
The western entrance of Toronto Harbour, known as the Western Gap, is a high-activity area for boats, as well as the location of the Billy Bishop Airport. Operators of all watercraft are required to keep clear of the Keep Out Zone, which is marked off with navigational buoys.
Sailing is not permitted in the inner and outer harbor unless special permission is obtained from the Port Authority Manager.
The speed zones in Toronto Harbour are enforceable under the Canadian Marine Act. The Toronto Police Service’s Marine Unit can issue tickets for violations, which can result in a fine of $400, or in some cases violators will be given a court date to appear in answer to their infractions.
Unless otherwise authorized by the authority:
- No vessel shall exceed a speed of 5 knots (10 kilometres per hour) within 150 metres of any shoreline or breakwater.
- Except as provided for above, no vessel shall exceed 10 knots (19 kilometres per hour) elsewhere within Toronto’s “Inner” and “Outer” Harbours.
- No vessel shall produce a wake within Toronto Island lagoons, nor navigable waters between the shoreline and Western Breakwater.
Swimming is not permitted in the Toronto Harbour water, except in a designated area as authorized by posted signs, or with written authorization of the Port Authority.
Swimming zones are located near authorized Toronto beaches.
Powered Vessel Operator’s Permit
Recreational boaters operating a powered vessel within the Port of Toronto must have a Powered Vessel Operator's permit and a proof of competency, such as a Pleasure Craft Operator Card.
The Powered Vessel Operator’s Permit is issued by the Toronto Port Authority.
The Pleasure Craft Operator Card is issued by Transport Canada for all Canadian waterways.
Alcohol, cannabis or prescription drugs will impair your ability to operate any vehicle.
In addition to driving cars and trucks, impaired driving laws also apply to those operating boats, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles.
In Ontario, an impaired operation conviction in relation to a boat may result in the suspension of an individual's driving privileges.
Learn more about Ontario Impaired Driving rules here.
Before you spend time on the water, make sure your boat is properly equipped with the safety items that are required to have on board. Check ahead that the weather forecast is suitable for the trip, you have sufficient fuel and supplies, and you have a sail plan (see below).
Bring a fully charged cellphone with you in case of an emergency.
Your Sail Plan
A Sail Plan is not limited to sailors. Everyone should have a sail plan for safety reasons. When you are planning to spend time on the water, whether it is for a few hours or a few days, a Sail Plan, is one of the most important lifesaving tools.
Tell someone your plan and include the following information:
- Where you are going and the route you plan to take
- When you are planning to be off the water, in case you don’t return
- When you are leaving
- The people who are going with you
- Details about your watercraft
Boating Safety Resources
Take a Boating Course
Everyone who operates a power-driven boat needs proof of competency, which is something that shows an understanding of the basic rules and how to safely operate a boat. The Pleasure Craft Operator Card is the most common proof of competency. You can get a Pleasure Craft Operator Card by passing an accredited boating safety course.
Advanced courses are available to increase your boating and water knowledge. Training is available for people who prefer to paddle.
Pleasure Craft Licence
When you buy a boat, you need to get a Pleasure Craft Licence, which is a document with a unique licence number for your pleasure craft. The number serves as identification for the vessel and allows search and rescue personnel to access important information in an emergency.
Boating Safety App
The Discover Boating app gives you information about key rules, guidelines, and best practices that will help you and your family stay safe on water. It works online, offline and offshore.