Students canoeing out of a marsh on a canoe course on Jackson Lake, AB
Location: Jackson Lake, Alberta. Photo credit: Priscilla Haskin

Transport Canada Vessel Regulations for Guided Excursions

The following summary applies to the new Transport Canada Small Vessel Regulations released April 2010, so you will want to take note of these for the current Instruction and Guiding paddling season as this is now the law.


In April 29, 2010 Transport Canada updated the Small Vessel Regulations with changes that reflect current minimum practices in the paddling community. The basic standards for Human-Powered Pleasure Craft have not changed however, there are changes which impact many instructors, guides, trip leaders, clubs, and municipalities in Canada. The biggest change pertains to “guided excursions” for canoes and kayaks.  Please note that by “guide” Transport Canada is referring to any paid or unpaid leader of a group of people on the water.

The new Small Vessel Regulations states,

a guided excursion means a non-competitive outdoor recreational activity or excursion led by a person in charge of the activity or excursion during which the participants use a human-powered vessel.

(See the Small Vessel Regulations paragraph 300.(1).)

If you are leading or guiding a trip, teaching a course, or on the water in any type of leadership position (volunteer or paid) the vessel is considered not a pleasure craft, as defined in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, you are now classified as being on a “guided excursion” and thus fall under the new regulations.

This may include, but not limited to: instructors, guides, teachers, paddling schools, club volunteers, boy scouts, girl guides, church groups, camps, outfitters, or any other commercial or non-profit organized group on the water. Note that these new regulations only come into effect when you are leading an organized activity on the water. You are not classified as a “guided excursion” if you are on the water with family or close friends where you are not looked upon as the leader, guide or instructor. Please contact Transport Canada directly with any questions if you need more clarification.

Note the following information is for Guided Excursions. If the activity is a “pleasure craft outing” the requirements are different and you should refer to Transport Canada Small Vessel Regulations, Pleasure Craft Guidelines, for the complete list.

Paddle Canada along with other paddling associations and groups nationally were involved in the public consultation process from 2005 onwards with Transport Canada. An article published in Kanawa Winter 2006/2007 talked about this ‘Call for Input’ to our members.

Guided Excursions:

Required Equipment for Canoes and Kayaks of Leaders of Guided Excursions

Under the new Transport Canada regulations, if you are operating a canoe or kayak as a leader in a guided expedition are required to carry the following equipment below.

1. Personal Lifesaving Appliances

  • one lifejacket or PFD for each person on board
  • one buoyant heaving line at least 15 m (49’3″) long

See Small Vessel Regulations, section 310. When on class 3 or above waters, a helmet of an appropriate size must also be worn.

2. Vessel Safety Equipment

  • a bailer or a manual bilge pump; or
  • bilge-pumping arrangements

Note: See Small Vessel Regulations sub-section 311.(1) item 1. in table.

3. Navigation Equipment

  • a pea-less whistle or other sound-signaling appliance that meets the requirements of the Collision Regulations;
  • if the canoe or kayak is operated after sunset or before sunrise or in periods of restricted visibility, a watertight flashlight or three pyrotechnic distress signals other than smoke signals (Note: Pyrotechnic distress signals are not a substitute for navigation lights); and
  • a magnetic compass if the canoe or kayak is navigating out of sight of navigation markers.

Note: Compass is required in all cases when the vessel is more than 8 metres (26’) in length.

See Small Vessel Regulations section 311.(1) item 2. in table.)

First Aid Kit

A first aid kit required by these Regulations shall be packed in a waterproofed case capable of being tightly closed after use. There are several different options for first aid kits. You can purchase one that meets the standards for the Marine Occupational Safety and Health Regulations or one that meets your provincial Occupational Health and Safety Board. For example, St. John’s Ambulance makes a first aid kit starting at approximately $20.

If you purchase a commercial kit, a resuscitation face mask and two pairs of examination gloves must be included in the kit if they are not already.

You can also build your own first aid kit using a list of items provided in the Transport Canada regulations.

See the Small Vessel Regulations paragraph 8.(1)(b).

Helmets and PFD/Lifejacket Wearing

A person responsible for an enterprise that conducts guided excursions (the manager of ABC Kayak Tours Inc.) and the leader of a guided excursion shall ensure that:

Every participant in the excursion wears the following safety equipment:

1) a personal flotation device or lifejacket of an appropriate size, and
2)when on class 3 or above waters, a helmet of an appropriate size

In other words, the business owner or manager is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the clients are actually wearing the proper safety equipment instead of just carrying it.

Please note that Paddle Canada requires all Instructors and participants to wear their PFD/life jackets on all sanctioned courses and helmets must be worn on all Class II and above waterways.

(See the Small Vessel Regulations paragraph 303.(1)(a).)


A person responsible for an enterprise that conducts guided excursions and the leader of a guided excursion shall ensure that any equipment or material that is carried on board the vessel and that is not being used is secured in place when the vessel is moving.

This is also the responsibility of the leader of a guided excursion.

(See the Small Vessel Regulations paragraph 303.(1)(b).)

Cold Water

If the water temperature is less than 15ºC, the “person responsible for an enterprise that conducts guided excursions and the leader of a guided excursion” will ensure that equipment is immediately available or that procedures are established to protect the participants from the effects of hypothermia or cold shock resulting from swamping, capsizing or falling overboard.

(See the Small Vessel Regulations paragraph 303.(2).)

Safety Briefing

A person responsible for an enterprise that conducts guided excursions and the leader of a guided excursion shall, before the beginning of the excursion, ensure that all participants are briefed in either or both official languages, according to their needs, on the safety and emergency procedures relevant to the guided excursion.

(See the Small Vessel Regulations paragraph 304.(1).)

Float Plan

The leader of a guided excursion shall, before the beginning of the excursion, report the number of participants in the excursion to a person on shore who has been designated by the leader to be responsible for communicating with search and rescue authorities in case of an emergency.

If the guided excursion takes place in a remote area and it is not possible to report the number of participants to a person on shore, the leader of the excursion shall leave a record of the number of participants and the area of operation in a known location on shore that is accessible to search and rescue authorities.

(See the Small Vessel Regulations paragraph 305.(2).)

Paddle Canada recommends Clubs/organizations develop trip schedules/plans (websites, online or offline, etc), if they haven’t already done so, with mechanisms for sanctioning these trips, and determining reporting (pre-trip and post trip) that mirrors a Float Plan.  There should also be a risk management plan set up for club/organization trips.

Vessel Registration

The Minister made an announcement on March 17, 2011 that registration is no longer required for human-powered vessels, small sailing vessels and small vessels that are equipped with a motor less than 10 horsepower.

Note: Paddle Canada encourages Instructors, organizations and guides to document the procedures they follow to meet these requirements.  Paddle Canada also encourages individuals to read thoroughly the Transport Canada’s Small Vessel Regulations for Pleasure Crafts and Guided Excursions and to know what equipment is needed and what the requirements are for each. Furthermore, regular training should occur to ensure procedures are followed consistently.

Update on 2013 Transport Canada Regulations & Interpretations

We talked to managers at Transport Canada’s Office of Boating Safety in the spring of 2013 about updates to the Human Powered Craft Regulations (otherwise known as paddling craft including Stand Up Paddleboards). Here is the summary of that conversation addressing some of our questions. Thanks to Peter Kasurak, Chair of Safety Committee for the work on this.

  • SUP Boards: These became popular after the last regulatory review and were therefore not considered by Transport Canada (TC). Regulations are not likely to be reissued in the next 18 months. TC’s general approach is they only come under regulatory control if used “in navigation” and not as a surf board or beach toy. The most important requirement would be that a PFD is required when used “in navigation”, but not as a surf board or at the beach. It was admitted that “navigation” at this point has not been well-defined. Current TC thinking is that SUPs would fall into the same category as sit-on-tops.
  • Deletion of paddle or anchor: TC’s approach is that regulations should only be applied to save lives. PFD’s are therefore key. While extra paddles and anchors are good things and may reduce discomfort, TC does not regard them as essential to safeguard life.
  • Reboarding device: This would likely apply to big canoes based on freeboard. TC has no firm ideas as to what device would be appropriate, so suggest using your judgement on using something like a rope ladder or a boarding loop. The simple loop was not rejected – but not endorsed either.
  • Whistles:  There is no change for the requirement for smaller boats.
  • Bailers and bilge pumps:  This was not meant to exempt standard canoes with manufacturer’s air cells in bow and stern. TC hadn’t thought about WW boats with full flotation (and the fact boaters bail them out by taking them to the riverbank), but in conversation it was mentioned that these also can capsize. TC noted that these regs would be enforced by police of jurisdiction such as the OPP and if someone thought they could convince the police that they were exempt they could try.
  • Radar reflectors: The intent was to capture large sea kayaks that go into navigable waters in poor visibility. TC had no precise limits as to what boats this might apply to, but was not thinking of applying this to standard canoes, kayaks or SUPs. Practical limitations of carrying a reflector were recognized. TC is not interested in requiring people who are in shallow shore waters or paddling in clear weather to carry reflectors.
  • Flares:  Only intended for large kayaks (and possibly big canoes if long enough – over 6 meters). We asked why this equipment was based on size of boat instead of location. TC did not really have a good explanation except that boating regs had historically been based on vessel specs.

Some final points from Transport Canada

  • They do not write regulations to allow for every possible circumstance and would resist writing a bunch of exceptions to general regulations.
  • They rely on constabulary discretion in enforcement. They expect individuals exercising reasonable judgement to be able to explain their position to enforcement officials who are also assumed to behave reasonably in evaluating a particular situation.
  • Their most important regulation and the one they are most unlikely to make any concession is having one approved PFD per paddler.

Transport Canada’s Minimum Equipment Requirements for Human Powered Vessels