Canoe Packs and Canoe Paddles

Safety Equipment


Portaging the Canoe - A Rite of Passage - Algonquin Provincial Park

The minimum safety equipment required for any type of boat is specified by Transport Canada. You can look up the details in the Safe Boating Guide on the Transport Canada website and I recommend that you double check that list as it could certainly change. If there is any discrepancy between the Transport Canada requirements and the information I have here, then the Transport Canada site will always be correct.

The labels I'm using below match the labels from the Safe Boating Guide. Specific requirrements for safety equipment depend on both the type of boat and the size/length of the boat. I'll focus on the requirements for canoes and kayaks.


Personal Lifesaving Appliances

Blue foam camping mattress

As I said, I'm copying the headings from the Safe Boating Guide. This category covers PFDs or lifejackets and other equipment that is intended to either keep you afloat or help get you out of the water. You are required to have 1 PFD or lifejacket for every person in the canoe or kayak, but the official rule stops short of requiring you to wear it. While I know lots of people who still prefer not to wear their PFD all the time, I honestly don't think there is much excuse for that anymore given the wide variety of approved PFD styles available. When selecting a PFD, make sure that it is properly labeled as being Transport Canada approved.

Cheap Bouyant Heaving LineThe next item on the list of Personal Lifesaving Appliances is a bouyant heaving line. This is basically any rope that floats, has a bit of weight on one end to help you throw it and is at least 15m (approx. 50') long. If you buy one of the standard "safety buckets" then you'll get a length of polypropylene rope with a float on one end. This will qualify to get you past an OPP safety check, but it really isn't that effective as a throw line. Throw Rope for Canoeing & KayakingYou are much better off investing in a throw bag which will have a better quality rope and which will be much more effective if you do have to throw it to a canoe or swimmer as part of a rescue. Note that just having a couple of short painter lines tied on to you canoe is not going to be enough to qualify as your bouyant heaving line.

If you are planning on lining your canoe up or down a rapid at any point, or if you are carrying rope to set up a tarp, then carrying a decent throw rope that can double for either of those jobs will fit right in with the gear you're already planning on packing.

The last item listed under the Personal Lifesaving Appliances is a "reboarding device". This would actually be a ladder to hang over the gunwale to help you climb back into the canoe and makes a lot of sense on larger boats. The good news is that the fine print exempts boats with less than .5m/1' 8" of freeboard from this requirement. Since most canoes have a center depth of 15" or less they won't be required to carry a "reboarding device".


Vessel Safety Equipment

Bailing Device aka a bucketCanoes and kayaks get off fairly lightly when it comes to the Vessel Safety Equipment requirements and are only officially required to carry a bailer or manual bilge pump. A bailer can be any bucket big enough to be useful. Generally speaking you'll have a hard time convincing an OPP officer that your camp mug qualifies as your bailer. On the other hand a bailer made out of an old juice jug with the bottom cut out and the cap screwed on will work just fine as will the orange bucket that comes with those cheap all-in-one safety buckets. One recommendation based on experience is to make sure the bailing bucket is within reach of the stern paddler. Usually your canoe will be trimmed with the stern slightly heavier than the bow which means any water is going to flow to the stern.

Strangely canoes and kayaks are not required to carry either a "manual propelling device" or an anchor. Now it's reasonable to assume that everyone *plans* on having a paddle with them when they set out in a canoe, but it doesn't *always* happen. Of course it is also possible for paddles to break so it is a best practice to have a spare paddle along. While I don't think it hurts to have a spare paddle in each canoe, you should at least have a spare paddle or 2 within your group.


Visual Signals

A flashlight qualifies as a visual signalling deviceVisual signalling devices for canoes and kayaks are either flashlights or flares. This is another place where smaller boats, under 6m in length (19' 8") get off easy and are exempt from the rule. Since most tripping canoes are 18' long or less, you can technically get away without carrying a flashlight during the day. On the other hand having a small LED flashlight on hand isn't a bad idea and you're going to want a flaslight along on your trip anyway. Most kayaks, including most sea kayaks are also shorter than the 6m limit, but double check as there are some 20' single cockpit sea kayaks around.

Note that the flashlight only qualifies if it is both watertight and working. A flashlight with dead batteries won't pass a safety check with the OPP. Since our safety buckets move between the canoes and our cottage boats, we do keep flashlights in them and each spring we check to make sure the flashlights are still working and change the batteries if necessary.

There is a second exemption for flares in addition to the length of the canoe or kayak. If you are paddling on a waterbody in which you can never be more than 1 nautical mile from shore, then you aren't required to carry flares.


Navigation Equipment

Sleeping pads stored flatThe last category of safety equipment that applies to canoes and kayaks is the Navigation Equipment. There are 4 pieces of equipment that are required under the navigation equipment. The first is a "sound signalling device" which can just be a whistle. Consider the whistle as your low tech, compact fog horn. A whistle won't be heard as far away as an airhorn, but if you did get stuck out in heavy fog it could help identify your position to other boats. Personally, I would suggest paying more attention to the weather and getting to shore while you can still see it.

The 2nd piece of Navigation Equipment that is required if you are out on the water in the dark is navigation lights. For a human powered boat like a canoe or kayak then a single white light like a flashlight is sufficient to qualify as your navigation lights.

TMagnetic Compasshe 3rd piece of equipment which may be required is a magnetic compass. Technically if your canoe or kayak is less than 8m (26' 3") long *and* you are within site of navigational markers, then you are exempt from carrying a compass. The temptation might be to think that if you are within site of shore that you are fine. That might be enough to get by an OPP saftey inspection but it really isn't enough for safe canoe tripping. We weren't more than a couple of hours into or Lake Temagami trip before getting ourselves off course by not having used the compass from the start.

The final piece of Navigation Equipment that is required by Transport Canada regulations is a Radar Reflector but I have to admit that this rule confuses me. I understand why a radar reflector is useful. If your canoe isn't made out of aluminum, the odds are it won't show up on radar easily and even if it is made out of aluminum it still sits so low in the water that it may not stand out from the waves. If you are paddling in an area with larger boats, then a radar reflector can be a big help in letting them see you. That all makes sense, but the catch is that it has to be "big enough and well placed" to be useful and that appears to be "at least 4m (13' 1") above the water". Once again there are exemptions to this requirement and this is where it gets a bit confusing. Rather than being a straight exemption based on the size of the canoe or kayak like most of the other exemptions, this one talks about not being required to have a radar reflector if it "is not essential to the boat’s safety" or if "having a radar reflector (is) impracticable". I'm pretty sure that setting up some sort of radar reflector 13' above the water in a 16' - 18' canoe is almost always going to be "impracticable". However, if you are planning on paddling anywhere near large boat traffic including commercial vessels, then you should give some thought to how you could rig a radar reflector.

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