Skip to content
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.

On 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 that 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 Small Vessel Regulations state,

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 is 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 was 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 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 of the Marine Occupational Safety and Health Regulations or one that meets your provincial Occupational Health and Safety Board.

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.