New Transport Canada Vessel Regulations - What You Need to Know

Friday, 04 February 2011

Back in the fall of 2010 Transport Canada formally released an update to their small vessel regulations which; for the first time in a long time impacts canoe and kayaks.

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The most controversial element of the new regulations centers around the idea that any type of paid or volunteer leadership on the water (including teaching or guiding) is now deemed as a commercial venture. This, "Guided Excursion" means that your canoe or kayak now falls under the commercial regulations for small vessels which includes commercial vessel registration.

I will be honest with you. Since the announcement I have seen some of the most ridiculous posts by people on canoeing forums. Post by people who know nothing about the regulations but still very willing to tell the world how Paddle Canada and Transport Canada are destroying our canoeing heritage.

I will admit that when Transport Canada announced the changes there were lots of questions to be answered as the regulations are very vague and open to a lot of interpretation. To help understand them better I worked with several other Paddle Canada Program Development Committee volunteers to go through and sort out what everything means. It took a while to sort through which included many, many calls and emails with Transport Canada representatives but I think we created a good summary document with an FAQ that is posted on the Paddle Canada website.

Even though there is still some uncertainty about some areas here is what I know for sure:

  • Everybody needs to calm down. Yes, there are new regulations but the world isn't falling apart. People will still get out and go on kayak trips and kids will still dump over their canoe on purpose and have a great time doing it.
  • The majority regulations already mirror the industry standards. Outside of a couple areas, the vast majority of items put into law are currently the industry gold standard. If you don't already file a float plan, have a safety talk with your clients before going on the water or carry a fist-aid kit then you have got bigger issues then government rules.
  • If you are an instructor or guide you will need to register your boat(s). This is the item that has everybody up in arms. The thing to remember is that this only affects people who are in a leadership position on the water. It doesn't affect buddies going out on a trip or people out for a recreational paddle in the evening. It also has no impact on businesses that only rent boats.


Hidden Benefit?
I will admit that it sucks to have to register your boat. The paperwork is kinda a hassle (it took me 15 minutes to fill mine out) and the $50 feels like a kick in the teeth but this could have a benefit that is way beyond just the individual paddler. A benefit that has the potential to be a radical shift in our favour.

For the first time ever we will have a seat at the political table. This is a huge breakthrough and though you might not see it that way, it really is. By registering our vessels we are now on the same legal standing as the commercial fishing industry and any other commercial vessel that uses our waterways and shorelines. For the first time we will be able to say that our commercial business is being affected when somebody decides to build a dam or create a fish farm. We are paying stakeholders in the eyes of government which will be a 180 degree shift than their view of us before (freeloading hippies too cheap to pay fees). Think about this, if we can organize ourselves we can take advantage of the significant clout that we have never had before.

If you were to believe the forums you will think that Paddle Canada has been in cahoots with Transport Canada to enact as many regulations as possible and shove them down paddlers throats. The reality is that neither Transport Canada and Paddle Canada are your enemies. Paddle Canada has been actively working to get the word out now so instructors and business owners have time to comply with the new rules before they get in trouble. Paddle Canada has had to take the education lead because Transport Canada has done little or nothing towards communicating with the paddling community on their own.

The other thing is that Paddle Canada has been working with Transport Canada to try to lesson the impact of the new regulations on the paddling community. Probably the biggest win was fleet registration. Did you know that at first you were going to be charged $50 for each boat you wanted to register? After looking at a draft copy of the regulations they let them know that it wasn't going to work as individual people often own several boats and some paddling schools own hundreds of boats. After some thought Transport Canada changed the process to allow for fleet registration for the same cost as one boat - $50.

So what happens next? Not sure. I do know that there are elements of the regulations being reviewed within Transport Canada so there could be tweaks over the coming year or so. The message I got from them is that they want to hear directly from you how these changes will affect your club or business.

Remember, it's much more effective to talk to them directly then to sound-off on a forum that nobody from Transport Canada reads anyways.

Final note: These are my own thoughts and opinions. I'm not speaking for Paddle Canada in any way.

Photo credit: Pierre Obendrauf, The Gazette

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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