Know the Personal Limitations of the Operator and the Limitations of the Vessel


Operator Skill Set


It is common sense that you would not undertake a cross ocean voyage as your first trip as an inexperienced boater.

You should take your own experience as a boater into account before planning any trip.

If you are an inexperienced boater, are you confident that you have the skills required to undertake an extended voyage ?

Do you think you have adequate knowledge and the years of experience required for a challenging trip ?

Education and experience will build your skill set.    Join a boat club or take boating courses and benefit from the skills and experience of others.   Arrange to take more challenging trips with other boaters if possible.


Operator Fatigue


As an operator of a vessel, your body and mind need to be in good condition so that you can maintain an effective lookout and respond to emergency situations.

The common symptoms of fatigue are lack of energy and drowsiness, neither of which are desirable conditions to have if you are in control of a vessel.

Fatigue isn't the same thing as sleepiness, although it's often accompanied by a desire to sleep, and a lack of motivation to do anything else.

If you sense the symptoms of fatique, it is best to hand control over to another qualified operator and take a rest.   If that is not possible, slow down, and take refuge at the first opportunity, either by anchoring or docking.

Fatigue can result from a large number of possible problems, or may be as simple as the lack of adequate sleep.

Some of the more common causes of fatigue are listed below.    It is also possible that you have an underlying medical problem if you experience continual fatigue.
If this is the case you need to seek a medical opinion.

  • Anxiety
  • Caffeine use
  • Depression
  • Excessive physical activity
  • Grief
  • Lack of sleep
  • Medications, including seasickness drugs.
  • Stress
  • Drugs and Alcohol (See discussion below)


Influence of Drugs and Alcohol


This is a repeat message.

As an operator of a vessel, your body and mind need to be in good condition so that you can maintain an effective lookout and respond to emergency situations.

Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs while operating a vessel is a dangerous act.

Alcohol or drugs can affect an individual's:

  • judgement.
  • response time.
  • reflexes.
  • balance.
  • coordination.
  • eyesight.
  • hearing.

Don't operate while under the influence.


Boat Manoeuvrability


You should know the limits and capability of your boat.

As a first step, read the manufacturer's User Manual for important information that may be unique to your craft.

Through experience and practise, you should understand how your boat performs and reacts to common manoeuvres such as:

  • sudden turns to port or starboard
  • reaction to power bursts when approaching dock, forward and reverse
  • behaviour in heavy weather, both heading into the weather and riding the waves
  • behaviour in high wind conditions when travelling at slow speeds

In high wind conditions at slow speeds you should practise the adjustments you need make in heading and propulsion to achieve a desired course.

Understand that manoeuvrability can be affected by improper loading, which is discussed in the next topic.


Boat Capacity


Check the vessels User Manual for loading recommendations.

For vessels up to 6 metres, check the Load Capacity (Compliance Notice) plate for limits.    It is important to recognize that the suggested limits apply in good weather conditions.

When loading, take care to distribute weight and passengers evenly.    It is important to keep heavy items secured and as low and evenly distributed as possible.

Your vessel is more likely to "roll" in heavy weather and recovery is more difficult if you violate the rule of "loading low".

Heavy forward or aft loading can also adversely affect handling in bad weather.
A vessel loaded heavy forward will tend to plow under oncoming waves in bad weather.    A vessel loaded heavy aft is more susceptible to swamping from oncoming or following waves.

Monitor Conditions, Recognize Potential Danger and Hazards


Avoid Rapids and Currents


Check your trip plan before departure if you are in an area that has rapids or currents.

You need to check your charts for currents and rapids in the area.

You will avoid rapids. Rapids have strong turbulent currents and conceal rocks just below the surface. They can easily swamp a vessel or cause it to overturn. Rapids can overpower the vessel, causing a loss of control, and can cause personal injury or death to persons in the water.

You will stay clear of dams. Low-head dams are especially dangerous. Boaters and anglers often get too close to the downstream side of the dam, become drawn or sucked into the backwash current that takes them to the base of the dam, and are then forced under water. Victims are then pushed away from the dam under water. After surfacing, the victim is drawn back in toward the base of the dam, starting the cycle over again.

Evaluate currents and evaluate whether your vessel is suitable and whether you have sufficient experience and power to navigate in the area.

If you operate in a tidal area, check tide tables for the timing of currents and water levels at low, slack, and high tides and plan your transit through the area accordingly.


Weather and Water Conditions, Hazards


Do not underestimate the power of nature.

Get the latest weather forecast for your area before you depart.   Understand the terms used by Environment Canada for various wind speeds.

Light Winds(less than 12 knots)(22 km/h)
Moderate Winds(12 - 19 knots)(22 - 36 km/h)
Strong Wind Warning (20 - 33 knots) (37 - 61 km/h)
Gale Warning(34 - 47 knots)(62 - 87 km/h)
Storm Warning(48 - 63 knots)(88 - 117 km/h)
Hurricane Warning(64 knots or more)(118 km/h or more)

If you operate a small craft you should be heading for shelter if wind speeds approach 15 knots. At that point it is not unusual to see 1 metre waves with whitecaps.

Summer thunderstorms can strike quickly with little warning so keep a good watch on local weather conditions.   If you observe dark cumulonimbus clouds approaching and increasing wind speed it is time to head for shelter.

A squall (sudden, sharp increase in wind speed) is usually associated with active weather such as rain showers and thunderstorms.   Visibility can be drastically reduced along with a build-up of waves in squall conditions.   Take a compass reading if visibility is reduced so that you do not become disoriented.   Adjust speed if appropriate.

During heavy downpours, be wary of runoff debris which may enter the waterways from streams and adjacent shores.   Slow down and take evasive action to avoid debris and other floating objects.


Take Shelter


A prudent action in many circumstances is to take shelter.

Check your trip plan before departure for possible shelter locations.   Look for suitable docking locations or sheltered bays or coves of suitable depth that would provide shelter from forecast wind directions.

React to changing conditions when underway and if the weather appears threatening, re-evaluate your potential shelter locations.