How to Avoid Boat Pollution: Clean Boating in Canada

April 5, 2024

Canada has strict rules regarding pollution linked with recreational boating. The Oceans Act protects marine environments, including inland waters (a surface area of approximately 2.5 million square kilometres). Other sets of laws protect areas of freshwater, such as the Species At Risk Act.

Find out what you can and cannot do with your waste, and how to protect local environments from invasive species and other forms of harm by learning about Canada’s boat pollution rules and regulations.

Protecting Canada’s waterways and marine environments

There are many boating restrictions in effect in Canada, many of which focus on safe boating and proof of competency. However, there is now a rising number of environmentally motivated boating rules as well, which have become necessary to protect species at risk so that Canada’s waterways remain healthy and usable by all.

Recreational boating: rules to protect at-risk species 

Waterways in Canada are currently at risk due to invasive species of aquatic plants, fish and invertebrates originating from other parts of the world. These species can be introduced accidentally or intentionally, by boaters who do not correctly clean and maintain their boats before introducing them to Canadian waters. 

Remember, invasive species can harm native fish and other wildlife, as well as individual habitats and entire ecosystems. Recreational boats and watercraft, including fishing equipment, can all be carriers of these threats.

Preventing the spread of invasive species

Always clean your boat, trailer and equipment thoroughly before putting them in the water. Remove plants or species that you can see, and wash surfaces with hot tap water (at least 40 degrees C) or spray them with water at a high pressure (250 psi). Allow all element sot dry before moving to another body of water.

Drain water from your boat’s motor, live well and bilge or transom wells far from any waterway (on land).

When fishing, take care to keep empty bait buckets far from shore, and never release live bait from one body of water to another. Always consult local provincial fishing regulations, and be sure to report any sightings of invasive species.

Protecting local species

Rules to protect local species and habitats will vary according to location. Always respect local signage and if in doubt, consult your local marine authority.

Possible boating restrictions, as outlined in the Species At Risk Act (SARA) include:

  • limits on boat speed
  • limits on boating activity (keeping a distance from protected areas)
  • prohibitions against the use of motorized vessels
  • prohibitions against killing, harassing, capturing or harming species at risk
  • prohibitions against destroying critical habitats

You can always learn more about which species have been classified at risk.

Recreational boating: pollutant disposal laws 

If you own or operate a boat you are responsible for managing the pollutants present on that vessel, and their disposal, according to the Vessel Pollution and Dangerous Chemical Regulations. All aspects of owning and operating a boat are subject to environmental laws and regulations.

Greywater disposal

Greywater includes drainage from sinks and kitchens, and also laundries (on larger boats). Legally, no discharge should include solid matter or cause any sheen on the water. In most cases, recreational vessel owners should dispose of their greywater when on land, far from the shore.

Sewage (black water) disposal

It is illegal to dump sewage into Canada’s waterways, as it poses a risk to swimmers  (via bacterial infections) and to the environment.

Raw, untreated sewage, known as black water, is the product of marine toilets. Your toilet must be fitted with a holding tank so black water can be stored and later disposed of at a pump-out station. Dual systems with ‘Y’ valves that allow waste to be discharged from the boat are illegal.

Portable toilets are permitted onboard as long as they are firmly attached to the vessel and have a built-in mechanism for emptying at an authorized facility. For longer journeys, use onshore facilities whenever feasible.

Oil and fuel pollution

It is illegal to pollute Canadian bodies of water with oil and fuel. Minor oil spills resulting from running motors and refueling contain petroleum hydrocarbons that typically bind to sediments in the water. These substances endure in aquatic environments and pose a threat to benthic organisms, which form the foundation of the marine food web.

Always use caution when refuelling, as you can put both yourself and the environment at risk if you are not careful. Never let fuel spill into the water; to avoid mistakes, refuel on land, far from shore. 

If an oil or fuel spill is the result of an accident, you must report the accident appropriately.

Bilgewater disposal

If your bilgewater is perfectly clean, you can dump it into the water. If it contains oil, fuel, grease or chemicals, you are prohibited from dumping it overboard. Check your bilge regularly to confirm that it is clean, and if not, use an environmentally-friendly absorbent product to soak it up. Any leakage of contaminated bilge must be reported to government authorities.

Litter and garbage disposal

You are not allowed to dump litter and garbage overboard. Take care not to capsize your boat, and minimize the risk of causing pollution by keeping litter, garbage and other materials secure when under way.

Air pollution

Exhaust emissions from vessels contain sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Research by Health Canada and Environment Canada has concluded that these pollutants adversely affect human health and the environment, and new laws could be forthcoming.

For now, be mindful of your impact when you choose to use a motorized boat for recreational boating activities. Use fresh, quality fuel for your boat or PWC and keep your fuel tank clean. This will also help minimize your carbon footprint.

To confirm that your vessel is in good operation condition, you can always schedule a free Pleasure Craft Courtesy Check.

Noise pollution

Canadian laws prohibit pleasure craft from operating within 5 nautical miles (9.26 km) of shore unless they are fitted with an appropriate muffler. This does not include noise muffling via cooling water discharged through the exhaust pipe (wet exhaust). The Canadian Coast Guard is currently reviewing the laws surrounding noise pollution from small vessels, and you can review the important issues on the Government of Canada website. 

Remember that noise travels faster on water than on land. Avoid circling a motorized boat in the same area for long periods, and play music at a reasonable volume.

Get your Pleasure Craft Operator Card and learn all about responsible boating

Pleasure craft operators in Canada have many responsibilities when they take to the water. Managing waste and respecting environmental laws related to protecting at-risk species and preserving clean waterways are just the beginning. All Canadian regulations surrounding boating have been put in place to preserve the integrity of freshwater and marine environments, and protect the safety of the people who use them.

Get your official Canadian boating license from the National Boating Safety School and go boating legally and safely across Canada!

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