Recreational Boating Liability

 In Personal Injury

Ontario has more than 250,000 lakes and many Ontarians get great pleasure from participating in a variety of water sports and activities each summer. Unfortunately some of these activities can be dangerous. Even leisurely activities can result in injuries or worse: a slip and fall can happen if a boat passenger is upended by a wave and it may even result in a drowning if the passenger falls overboard and is not wearing a suitable life jacket.

Common Boating Accidents

Recreational boating accidents that can result in personal liability for the boat owner or operator usually fit into 4 categories: the boat hits a submerged object like rocks, the boat hits another boat, the boat hits another boat’s wake, and the boat hits a large wave. Liability for causing injury can also arise from boating-related activities such as scuba-diving, water skiing, fishing, tubing, and diving from the deck. It is common practice for a plaintiff to sue both the owner and operator of the boat, if they are different.

Legal Jurisdiction

As navigable waterways fall under federal jurisdiction, and motor vehicles are a provincial jurisdiction, boating accidents are multi-jurisdictional. Recreational boat owners in Ontario are covered by the federal Marine Liability Act, and the provincial Occupier’s Liability Act, Highway Traffic Act, and Insurance Act.

Common Law

Under common law, in order for an injured party to successfully sue a boat owner or operator for negligence, they must prove four things: the existence of a duty of care, the standard of care was breached, damages resulted from the breach, and that the damages were foreseeable.

Occupier’s Liability Act

Under the Occupier’s Liability Act, the owners and operators of property or a residence owe a duty of care to those visiting their premises. This Act applies to boat owners whose craft meet residential requirements.

Highway Traffic Act

Some boating accident victims are protected by the Highway Traffic Act. Under this Act, all drivers of motorised vehicles are liable for the safety of their passengers. In the case of motor-powered boats, this means that owners and operators owe a duty of care to those they bring onboard.

Marine Liability Act

Defendants in boating accident cases may use the provisions in the Marine Liability Act which place a limitation on their liability. The Act and its regulations set out the maximum compensation payable. Accident victims involving vessels that are less than 300 gross tonnage can only be compensated to a maximum of $1,000,000 for personal injury or death, regardless of the number of people making a claim. A victim may be entitled to more than $1,000,000  if the boat was being operated recklessly.


Boating accidents adversely affect the health, well-being, and lives of thousands of Canadians every year. You can take steps to ensure that you, your family, and your friends enjoy our lakes and rivers safely. Simply obey all provincial and federal boating statutes and observe boating safety procedures and regulations, especially those prohibiting impaired boating.

This blog post was written by Edward (Ted) Masters, a member of the Disability Insurance Claims and Personal Injury teams.  He can be reached at 613-566-2064 or at

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