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Boating Laws and Safety in Nova Scotia

The beautiful summer is upon us and, once again, boaters will be taking to Nova Scotia’s lakes and rivers to enjoy themselves. Whether you are new to boating or have been doing it for years, you need to be aware of the rules regulating the safe operation of boats. These rules are no less stringent than the ones that govern cars. They must be followed, and when they are not, you can not only be ticketed, but you can also be sued by anyone who is injured due to your negligence.

In this article, we will discuss boating laws and why they exist and how you can operate your boat more safely this summer to avoid legal problems.

Pleasure Craft Operator Card 

If you plan on boating on any boat with a motor anywhere in Nova Scotia, you will need to carry your Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) at all times. Failure to do so will itself result in a fine. The law does not permit grandfather clauses.

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The PCOC’s aim was to reduce the number of boating accidents and deaths. With over seven million people taking to the waters each year, many pleasure craft operators expressed concern that just about anyone of any age was allowed to operate these boats on Canadian waters.

If you have a pleasure craft license, you should not confuse that with the PCOC. The license does not apply to boat operators, only the boat itself.

Boating Accident Statistics

Each year, there are around 6,000 boating-accident-related injuries and 200 fatalities in this country. The Canadian Red Cross conducted a 20-year study that spanned 1991 to 2010. During that period, there were 10,511 water-related deaths with the majority (9,961) of these individuals either drowning or dying of hypothermia. The study showed that, had boaters been wearing PFDs (or life jackets) about 50% of these deaths could have been avoided. Capsizing, swamping, or falling overboard accounted for 75% of deaths. In 43% of cases, alcohol was shown to have played a major role.

In cases in which trauma resulted in death, personal watercraft were almost always implicated and trauma to the head made up 41% of trauma-related fatalities.

Age and Operator Restrictions on Boating

You must be 16 years of age or older to operate a pleasure craft without supervision. Those between the ages of 12 and 16 can operate pleasure craft with motors under 40 hp while under the supervision of someone 16 years of age or older who holds a PCOC license. Anyone under 12 years of age can only operate a boat with 10 hp or less with supervision.

Common Offenses Related to Boating

 The most common offense related to boating is violating regulations requiring a specific amount of life jackets aboard the vessel. Since the Red Cross study, Canadian officials have recognized that there are about 5,000 people who would still be alive if they were either wearing their life jackets or had sufficient life jackets aboard.

Others include:

  • Careless operation of a boat
  • Speeding
  • Underage operation of a boat
  • Operating a boat without a muffler
  • Towing someone without a spotter

What Constitutes Careless Operation of a Boat?

Any boater in operation of a pleasure craft has a duty to ensure the safety of others on the water. This includes:

  • The pleasure craft must stay clear of swimmers and properties
  • The pleasure craft operator is responsible for the boat’s wash and is responsible for injuries caused to people or properties
  • The pleasure craft operator must abide collision regulations
  • The pleasure craft operator must use courtesy and common sense to avoid dangerous situations

Further, a pleasure craft operator is responsible for maintaining a safe speed. Instead of having a set speed limit, operators are required to use their best judgment. In cases in which they are within 100 ft of shore, it is illegal to travel more than 10 km/h. In addition, there will be speed zones for particular areas. Where this is no speed zone, pleasure craft operators are required to consider the following:

  • Visibility
  • Traffic
  • Wind
  • Sea and current
  • Proximity of navigational aids

In other words, if you are boating in less-than-friendly weather, you can be held responsible for operating your boat unsafely if your speed is considered too high for the current and weather conditions. Why? The faster you are going, the slower you will be able to come to a stop.

Careless operation is also specifically defined as the operation of a small vessel without due care or reasonable consideration for other persons. This includes (but is not limited to) how your wash affects the shortline, other boaters, and others occupying the water. It is imperative to operate your vessel with due consideration for others.

This includes only operating your boat while sober. Some statistics show that roughly one-third of all boating accidents are related to drunk boating. You may not operate your boat under the influence of alcohol or any other drug. This includes drugs that you may have a prescription for and yet compromise your ability to operate your boat safely.

Keeping Those Aboard Your Vessel Safe

You have a duty to ensure not only the safety of other boaters, swimmers, and anyone else on the water, you also have a duty to those who are inside your boat with you. If you fail in that duty, you can be held liable for both civil and criminal penalties. This requires that you maintain a proper look-out by both sight and hearing around your vessel. In case of an emergency, you should have an escape route planned out in your mind.

Consider the Weather

If you drive a car, you do have to consider the weather. Rain and snow are among the obstacles that drivers face. For boats, wind and fog are the two major concerns. Boats are also more susceptible to sudden storms and squalls. A careful boater will check the weather before leaving the dock.

You should have a barometer on your boat and you should know how to use it. The barometer can successfully predict sudden storms and even hurricanes. Familiarize yourself with the use of a barometer and you can avoid sailing into a storm.

Tips for Dealing with Storms

If you are in a storm, you can avoid tragedy by taking a number of simple measures.

  • Ensure all passengers are wearing life jackets
  • Reduce your speed and proceed to shore
  • Close hatches and ports to avoid swamping
  • Passengers should be low in the boat and near the centerline
  • Secure loose items to prevent them from becoming hazards
  • Release bilge to keep boat higher in the water

The best way to deal with a storm is to avoid sailing into one in the first place. A number of boaters are injured or killed each year by failing to make accommodations for inclement weather.


A number of folks end up getting ticketed because they do not know the law when it comes to waterskiing (or towing). There must be at least two people on the vessel if there is a third waterskiing: One person to operate the boat and another person to watch the skier. Water skiers are required to wear life jackets. Additionally, it is illegal to waterski between the hours of sunset and dawn.

Boating While Intoxicated

Boating with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or greater is a crime in Nova Scotia and most other Canadian provinces. If you are caught, you can face penalties of up to $600 for a first offense and subsequent prison sentences if this is your second or third offense.

It is unlawful for your passengers to drink onboard unless your boat meets specific requirements. These requirements include:

  • Permanent cooking facilities
  • Permanent sleeping areas
  • A permanent toilet

Most yachts and houseboats meet these basic criteria. However, even on these boats, it is unlawful to drink while the boat is in motion. Boat owners can be held liable even when their passengers are drinking aboard their vessels. In other words, you can be held liable for the injuries that a drunken passenger causes to him or herself. It is your responsibility to know the law and operate your boat safely.

Negligence in Boating Accidents

If one of your passengers or another individual is injured, you can be held liable and sued as a result of your negligence.

This means that if you do not have the proper number of life jackets or other safety equipment and one of your passengers dies as a result of the accident, you are legally responsible under the law. If you are found to have been operating your boat under the influence of drugs and alcohol, you are legally responsible under the law. If you do not take a safety measure that was covered in your PCOC course or otherwise operate your boat unsafely, you are legally responsible under the law.

Under the law, anyone who is injured aboard a boat can file a lawsuit against the boat’s owner and operator. The success of this lawsuit depends on what specific laws were violated in the process. Every year, lawsuits get filed against boat owners who have either injured their own passengers, a swimmer, or another boater. In cases where someone is killed in the accident, the family may file a wrongful death claim against the negligent party.

In most boating accidents, negligence is easy to prove. The operator of the boat is expected to take a safe boating class during which they are exposed to courtesy and safety requirements. Failure to abide by these requirements results in the majority of injuries you will see. These injuries are preventable. Because they are preventable, the boat’s operator and owner is responsible for them. That means they are liable for medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost time from work, and more.

So, what happens if one of your passengers gets drunk and falls off your boat? Again, you are liable. You are expected to know that the law prohibits such behavior in certain instances. Even though they contributed to their own injuries or even death, it is your boat, it is your property, and you could have prevented the accident by prohibiting the alcohol aboard your boat.

Common Types of Boating Accident Lawsuits 

Boating lawsuits are commonly filed in a number of situations. These include:

  • Pleasure boating
  • Yachting
  • Jet skiing
  • Scuba diving
  • Water skiing
  • Fishing
  • Motorboating
  • Speed boating


What Should I do if I Have Been Injured in a Nova Scotia Boating Accident?

You should get help immediately. Afterward, you will probably want to file a police report and notify the Transport Safety Board of Canada. In cases where you intend on filing a lawsuit against an allegedly at-fault party, you will need a personal injury lawyer to help you file that claim.

During that period, you will want to keep very good records of your medical reports, surgeries, and types of discomfort and pain suffered. Under the Marine Liability Act, you are entitled to compensation of $1 million.

The Marine Liability Act

The Marine Liability Act delineates all of the rules and regulations of liability that a boater has toward his or her passengers and those with whom he or she shares the water. If someone with children is killed by the negligence of another party, the children and spouse can recover damages related to their loss of companionship and guidance. This is apportioned based on the degree of fault of the boat operator. That determination will be made by a jury.

What Causes Boating Accidents?

The majority of boating accidents have some component of alcohol involved. If you are operating a small pleasure craft, you should not even have alcohol aboard the vessel. Other common causes include:

  • Inexperienced operator error
  • Distracted boating
  • Bad weather conditions
  • Equipment failure
  • Speeding
  • Congested waters
  • Overloaded vessels
  • Poor handling of fuel

Talk to a Nova Scotia Personal Injury Lawyer Today

 If you have been injured by a negligent boater, Preszler Injury Lawyers can help you recover damages related to your injuries. Our lawyers offer free consultations and we will not collect a dime unless you win your lawsuit. Give us a call at 1-800-JUSTICE or talk to us online for more details.

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Schedule a call with our personal injury legal intake team. Our team is available 24/7 so call us now to book your call. Our scheduled intake allows you to tell us details about your accident and gives our legal team an opportunity to review your case and advise you on possible solutions and outcomes. The best part is, if you decide to hire us after this call - you don't pay anything unless we win. We can help clients regardless of where they reside in Nova Scotia & New Brunswick so let us help you get started on your road to recovery.


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