New Canadian Small Vessel Regulations Released that affect Instructors and Guides [Game Changer]

Thursday, 07 October 2010
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Judge using his gavel. Flickr Photo Credit: IXQUICK

The Canadian Department of Justice just released an update to their Small Vessel Regulations. For those who don’t regularly dabble in the weird world of maritime laws, the pdf Small Vessel Regulations are the rules around equipment and safety for commercial boats operating in Canada.

For the most part these regulations don’t affect Canadian paddlers (outside of the Coast Guard required equipment like PFD’s, bailer, etc.) as it’s viewed as a recreational activity. Things do change though when you are participating in what they call a “guided excursion”.


According to the published regulations, a guided excursion means, “a non-competitive outdoor recreational activity or excursion led by a person in charge of the activity or excursion during which the participants use a human-powered vessel.”

If you look at that definition then a whole lot of what we (instructors and guides) do would easily be considered a guided excursion which actually changes things quite a bit. This means that you are no longer classified as an operator of a pleasure craft but a commercial vessel with a higher expected level of competence and safety management.

Some of the extra rules expected of us now include making sure that PFD’s fit and are worn (no brainer there) and when paddling in whitewater class 3 or higher everybody wears a helmet (again no brainer).

What is interesting and potentially the real game changer is the new rule: “If the water temperature is less than 15ºC (59F), a person responsible for an enterprise that conducts guided excursions and the leader of a guided excursion shall ensure that equipment is immediately available or that procedures are established to protect the participants from the effects of hypothermia or cold shock resulting from swamping, capsizing or falling overboard.”

That means some sort of immersion clothing worn throughout the day by all students. The level of clothing is still up for debate as the regulations make no mention. Is a wet suit enough? What about a wool sweater? To me the mention of “cold shock” is one of the key words in the new rule that confuses the issue. Will a wool sweater (or long underwear) fight off cold shock? For example, I get cold shock while wearing a wet suit so does that mean dry suits for all? I think that’s a bit extreme but you can see the problem.

For the Great Lakes and the ocean, the vast majority of the paddling season, the water can be below 15C. Does your paddling school offer wet suits or immersion clothing to the students in the Spring/Early Summer? Something to think about.

Another interesting item I found in there was the following, “A person responsible for an enterprise that conducts guided excursions and the leader of a guided excursion shall, before the beginning of the excursion, ensure that all participants are briefed in either or both official languages, according to their needs, on the safety and emergency procedures relevant to the guided excursion.”

The regulations above aren’t brain surgery rocket science. As instructors and guides, we are taught to watch out and keep our charges safe. The problem is if we forget (or ignore) these regulations and something goes wrong then not only is the client and your boss unhappy but you are at risk to get in more legal trouble. In the Canadian Government’s eyes you are a commercial operator and should have known better.

Future Kokatat epaulet for drysuit?I take a read though yourself pdf here . I’m keen to hear what you think and if you think this could potentially affect you. All the good stuff is on pages 30-35.

All I know is that if I'm now classified as a commercial operator, Kokatat better come out with a captain’s drysuit with the removable epaulet option. Here is a pattern they can use for 2011.

Epaulet photo credit: militaryheritage.com
Judge Flickr Photo Credit: IXQUICK


David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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