As the owner or operator of a boat you have a duty of care to your passengers and crew and there is a standard for safety which you must ensure. Passengers share some of this responsibility but they expect the "skipper" to manage their risk and rescue.
You must provide a lifejacket that fits each person properly (including children.) When should you insist that they wear it?
Factors to consider
- The Duty of Care you owe to passengers and crew
- The Standard of Care
- Passengers' responsibility
- Children on board
- Lifejacket size
- Rescue readiness
- Your event/trip
Have you taken a boating course?
Important links to safety organizations.
Recreational boating and water sports are activities that are usually associated with fun, freedom and escape – carefree images marketed by boat manufacturers, the tourist industry and lifestyle magazines. Every boat or cottage owner also knows that they have a significant investment tied up in their boating activity, including on-going expenses for operation and maintenance and a checklist of responsibilities that comes with the territory.
Besides the repairs and equipment replacements, trailers, mooring and marina storage, there are boat licenses and operator competency cards, and also insurance and liability coverage to manage during the off-season.
Some questions you need to ask yourself, your insurance broker and your lawyer
What are your obligations to passengers that you take out for a ride in your boat?
- Your children's friends who visit for the weekend?
- Co-workers or employees enjoying a team-building activity?
What happens if you rent your cottage? Are the boats included?
What about if visitors or friends want to borrow your boat?
What should you be thinking about when you set out on your own?
- Who will be coming to look for you if you don't return on time?
- When will they be notified?
There is a long history of maritime law and traditions that have evolved from the ancient "Laws of the Sea".
The responsibility of a captain towards his passengers and crew and the responsibility of boat owners in commercial operations have resulted in regulations and case law that affects small boats and pleasure craft too. It is clear that a boat owner has a responsibility for what happens in his or her boat and a duty of care to those who travel on or near that vessel (even if someone else is operating the boat.)
It is a good idea for boaters to be familiar with safety measures that are generally recognized and advised by experts as they form the standard of care that must be lived up to. Sometimes these standards reach beyond that which is legally required.
There is also an extent to which a passenger shares in this responsibility through their own actions or negligence.
• Read more about legal terms and issues (including 'Duty of Care' towards passengers and crew, 'Standard of Care' - Was it breached?, 'Negligence of Passengers'), from the SMARTRISK/CSBC report 2003
• Canada Shipping Act (you will leave this site)
• Marine Liability Act (you will leave this site)
Recreational Boating in Canada is regulated by federal legislation (the Small Vessel Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act 2001)
The federal body responsible for these regulations is Transport Canada although they may be enforced by provincial authorities.
The Office of Boating Safety has consistently advised that lifejackets should be worn at all times. (Although at this time the regulations only state that the lifejacket must fit the person intended to wear it and it must be in good condition and near at hand.) This advice occurs on the approval label of lifejackets and PFD’s, in advertising, brochures, public displays, posters and key chains as well as The Safe Boating Guide and the Transport Canada Office of Boating Safety website.
The enforcement agencies (RCMP, OPP, QPP, etc.) responsible for applying the regulations in the field and issuing tickets for contravention also strongly advocate that lifejackets be worn, particularly in small boats.
What the Safety Organizations have to say
The leading safety organizations including the Canadian Red Cross, the Lifesaving Society and the Canadian Safe Boating Council all have statements, brochures, public education programs and courses that clearly advise that lifejackets only work if they are worn.
The Canadian Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons, and Search and Rescue Organizations have been teaching students and the general public for many years about the importance of wearing lifejackets.
More and more organizations are recognizing the duty of care that they owe to their members, employees and participants. Insurance companies are looking to see the standard of care reflected in the policies of the organizations and events that they cover. Safety protocols, management plans, emergency manuals, signage and waivers are all part of the safety culture and environment that is expected by insurance companies, regulatory bodies and members of the general public.
Standard of Care
Individuals should pay regard to this evolution in the standard of care. You may be a member of a cottage association, or a board member of a sports team or simply the host of a party or the organizer of a group of friends who go on an annual trip together. You should ask yourself not only what your LEGAL responsibility is, but also where your MORAL responsibility lies. Ask yourself now "what more could I have done?” not after the tragic loss of someone close to you and a visit to the witness stand in a Coroner's Inquest.
It is reasonable to argue that a person knows or should know that the standard of care is that a lifejacket should be worn. A boat owner has a duty to inform passengers and enforce this standard. Boat owners and operators don’t have to wait for government regulation, they can choose to make it mandatory in their own boat.
Establish some safety rules
This responsibility to others in your care is serious but need not be onerous. By establishing a few simple protocols (like wearing a lifejacket) and applying them consistently you have not only helped to protect yourself legally, you are providing leadership, good citizenship, and ensuring that all your water activity remains enjoyable and produces only good memories. In addition you may just save a life.
There might be a few grumbles at first from those who are not used to doing it, but if the rule is applied universally everyone will get over it and get on with the enjoyment of their day. Your friends and family will look up to you. Activity will be easier to plan and everyone will know what is expected of them.
89% of the respondents indicated that they would wear a lifejacket if the owner/operator of the boat asked them to. (*)
(*) Environics Research Group. Canadian Boater Attitudes Toward Personal Flotation Devices: Final Report: Environics Research Group, for Office of Boating Safety, Canadian Coast Guard, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 2002.
- What type of activity
- Style, comfort & fit
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A day in the sun, wind and waves can affect your vision, alertness and reaction times.
Your passengers attention and balance will be affected too! Alcohol is a big factor.
A capsize can happen unexpectedly in small boats. A fall overboard in cold water is very dangerous due to the gasp reflex.