Your guide to boating and boating safety in Ontario

With hundreds of thousands of lakes, rivers and boating spots in Ontario, it’s safe to say that boating is a huge deal in the Heartland Province. From the shores of Lake Muskoka to the depths of Georgian Bay and the waves of the Kawarthas, Ontario is packed with places to boat, fish and swim to your heart’s content.

When it comes to boating in Ontario, fun is waiting for you — as long as you’re safe and ready to go. We’re telling you everything you need to know about boating in Ontario, from our favourite fishing spots to our go-to safety tips.

Just make sure you’ve got your Ontario Boating License (Pleasure Craft Operator Card) with you on your awesome boating adventure.

How to Start Boating in Ontario

Before you head out on the water, you need to make sure you’re operating your boat legally — with a pleasure craft licence in hand. 

To apply for your Ontario Pleasure Craft Licence, you have two options: apply online or complete a mail-in application. The application can be printed and mailed alongside all required documents or can be completed electronically, and the following documents are required when you register a new pleasure craft:

  • The completed application
  • Signed photocopy of the valid government-issued identification for each owner
  • A copy of the bill of sale or proof of ownership (home-built boats without a bill of sale may submit a declaration under oath)
  • A current, full side view photo of the pleasure craft

Ontario’s Best Boating and Fishing Spots

Lake Of The Woods: Lake of the Woods (LOTW) is a series of over 14,600 islands and a combined shoreline of 65,000 miles whose combined length bests Lake Superior. It’s Ontario’s second-largest inland lake and borders the province of Manitoba and the state of Minnesota. Two-thirds of the water lies within Ontario which totals 1,465 square miles of water. The lake encompasses over 1.5 million acres and edges villages, small cities and pristine wilderness.

Lake of the Woods is an excellent lake for a voyage regardless of your skill level or inclination for adventure. The area offers excellent fishing making it a haven for anglers. You can enjoy varied weather through the spring, summer, and autumn with scenic views and an array of wildlife.

The Rideau Canal: The Rideau Canal consists of a series of beautiful lakes and rivers connected by canals. It stretches from Kingston, at the foot of Lake Ontario, to Ottawa, Canada’s capital. Maintained by Canada’s Parks service it is arguably the most scenic and historic waterway in North America and is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America. 

The Rideau Canal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is the best-preserved example of a slack water canal in North America on a large scale. It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early 19th century that remains operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact. Travelling the Rideau Canal is best done by boat to get the full ambiance of the region. You can pilot your own boat, trailer it at the Canal, or rent a boat on-site.

Lake Huron: The towns and ports along the Lake Huron shoreline are collectively referred to as Ontario’s West Coast. It has a surface area spanning 23,010 square miles and a 6,157-kilometre long shoreline. Here are a few notable places in the North Channel to check out.

There are many safe harbours to visit as you cruise around, including The Bruce Peninsula, Tobermory, Lions Head, Win Field Basin, Pine Tree Harbour, Cove Island, Bradley Harbour, Stokes Bay, Oliphant and the Fishing Islands. They are all paradises just waiting to be explored.

Algoma Country: Algoma Country is surrounded by Great Lakes, Lake Superior and Lake Huron.  It offers world-class boating and amazing water adventures. With a plethora of docking facilities and amenities, boaters can safely navigate the more than 30,000 islands. There are many coves, bays and inlets of Lake Superior.

You can explore the scenic Benjamin Islands, Bear Drop Harbour and Aird Island Beaches. Walk along the Shoreline Discovery trail that offers a beautiful view of the North Channel. The marina provides transportation to shop and dine and offers 127 docks, with a maximum length of 80 feet, a 5-foot draft, shore power, gas, diesel, and pump out. 

Lake Muskoka: National Geographic has repeatedly put the Muskokas in the top ten places to live in the world. A trip to the Muskokas and the Haliburton Highlands can transform an ordinary holiday into the experience of a lifetime. Admire glorious sunsets, cruise crystal clear waters, or dine and dance at any number of its active communities. This region is a boater’s dream for all ages and tastes.

Located two hours north of Toronto, the area attracts thousands of visitors each year looking for an exciting, relaxing vacation. Huntsville, one of the most popular communities with countless inland lakes, sparkling rivers and cascading waterfalls. Adding more excitement are the several activities, services and events that are hosted there each season.  

Georgian Bay: Georgian Bay, often called the sixth Great Lake due to its size, inspires every true yachtsman with its magnificent scenery, more than 30,000 islands, and passageways. It covers 15,000 square kilometres and offers endless nooks and crannies to discover.  It offers opportunities for all water sports as well as picnics, birdwatching, camping, geocaching, photography and hiking. Notable areas of Georgian Bay for the avid boater are Giant’s Tomb close to Penetanguishene, Midland.

Other launch ramps in the region include the Western Islands for sensational seclusion such as American Camp Island in Wah Wah Taysee near O-Donnell Point. There is also Beausoleil Island near Honey Harbour, the largest in Georgian Bay Islands National Park, Port Rawson, Twelve Mile Bay or Echo Bay near Sans Souci.  

The Kawartha Lakes: Peterborough & the Kawarthas, which lie at the heart of the Trent-Severn Waterway, provides some of the best inland boating in the world with a chain of locks and canals that connects our lakes and rivers to the Great Lakes and beyond. The canals can be travelled one portion at a time moving from one point to another or can be done end to end over the course of a week or two. There are plenty of B&Bs and hotels along the way for small boaters and overnight docking can be arranged at the 45 locks for cruisers.

Boating enthusiasts of every kind love the Kawartha waters: anglers looking for the catch of the day; sightseers out for an afternoon on a pontoon boat; wake-boarders showing their stuff behind a ski boat; power-boaters and cruisers on a week-long jaunt. Along the many towns and communities are lakes and rivers running off the Trent-Severn system where art galleries, museums, and other historical sites can be found. Each year circa 130,000 boaters travel the system.  

Lake Simcoe: Less than an hour from Toronto, Lake Simcoe offers an excellent opportunity for boating enthusiasts including popular destinations like Barrie and Orillia. Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching are the largest lakes on the Trent Severn waterway and have a deep history of angling and hunting. Lagoon City offers a haven for boaters where beautiful homes line the canals. Beaverton features the opportunity to peruse its antique and collectables stores, museums, farmer’s market and the Old Stone Jail. 

Along the southern shoreline, you can find Pefferlaw, Sutton and Jackson’s Point, home to the Red Barn Theatre where live plays and performances can be seen. Cook’s Bay holds a series of communities including Keswick. West of Cook’s Bay lies Gilford, Lefroy and Bell Ewart. Making your way north you will find Big Bay Point and Kempenfelt Bay which leads to the city of Barrie, the largest communities on the lake. Moving further north you’ll find the Atherly Narrows leading to Lake Couchiching and Orillia, another boater haven.

Ottawa River: From the Lake of Two Mountains and Lake Saint-Louis to Montreal to the famous Rideau Canal and Ottawa, from Ottawa to Pembroke to Mattawa and the Temiskaming Shores, boating the Lower and Upper Ottawa River provides a scenic and very navigable experience. This epic river cruising opportunity can be done over a week, covering over 1,000 kilometres.

young boating looking back at siblings on the tube

Boating in Ontario Safely

With so much water all across Ontario, there are — quite literally — endless options for creating fun. However, boating safety has to be key. In an area loaded with places to boat, ski and fish, it’s top of mind to be well versed in safety techniques. From icy cold water to boating accidents, stay prepared. After all, that’s where the fun comes in.

At BOATsmart!, our biggest mission is to encourage fun, safe boating in places like Ontario, where the water is deep and the options are huge. Since every Canadian boater must take a boating safety course to obtain a Pleasure Craft Operator Card, join in with our fully narrated, animated and engaging curriculum.