Navigating Your Boat in Manitoba

Manitoba is packed full of white sand shores and blue waters, and from the forested folds of cottage country to the inland oceans of Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba, there’s no shortage of opportunities for the perfect boating trip. However, like the rules of the road when driving a car, there are rules of the water that apply when you are driving your boat…

Boating navigation rules are dependent on the waterways you are driving in (inland, rivers or international waters) and it’s integral to refer to the provincial laws where you are boating. Rules are put in place for very good reason; your safety! Here, we will summarize the basic navigation rules that boat operators are responsible for on the lakes and inland waterways across Manitoba.

Common Boat Navigation Mistakes

One of the most common boating violations is speeding.  Speed limits on the water must be obeyed at all times, and if you don’t see a speed limit posted, it is still necessary to operate your boat at a safe speed. A safe speed is one that allows you to stop your boat within a safe distance to avoid any collisions, whether that is the shore, dock or other boating traffic. Be aware of the local rules: for example, when boating in Manitoba, it is necessary to observe the un-posted speed limit of 10 km/h (6 mph ) within 30 meters (100 ft) from shore.  It’s also very important to take weather conditions, visibility and water depth into account when assessing what determines a safe speed: fog, rain and rough waters as well as night-time driving will all effect the maximum speed at which you can operate your boat safely. Put simply, if you are in too much of a hurry, don’t go boating! Take an airplane instead.

Another common violation of boating navigation rules is incorrect observation. Maintaining a proper lookout at all times is important to both the safety of your crew and others. Make sure that you can see and hear your surroundings clearly, and keep alert for oncoming traffic, animals, swimmers and other local hazards. Keep adequate clearance between your boat and any other traffic to avoid an accident. A good boater will always be thinking ahead of their current location – so keep in mind what’s coming down the track, as well as what’s in your direct surroundings.

Which Boat Has Right-Of-Way?

So, if you do come across traffic in your waters, how do you determine who has the right of way? First of all, familiarise yourself with the sectors of navigation. They are

  1. The port (left) sector
  2. The starboard (right) sector
  3. The stern (behind/overtaking) sector

You then need to determine the boats traffic in relation to one another using these sectors.

manitoba boating - navigation right of way

If another boat approaches you from the port sector (left), you have the right of way. This means you are what boaters refer to as the “stand on craft”. If a boat approaches you from the starboard (right) sector, you do not have the right of way. You are now operating the “give way craft”. When overtaking, or approaching from the stern sector, you do not have the right of way and, just like driving a car, must ensure you have adequate clearance before you attempt to overtake. There are no rules against overtaking on the port sector (left) however if a safe route is available to you, it is always recommended that you pass on the starboard (right) side of the other boat.

You also need to ensure that your boat is kitted out with the correct navigation equipment. This means you must have the correct lighting, which will vary depending on the type of boat you’re operating. Lights are an important aid in navigating the waters, particularly at night. Boat lighting is easy to decipher; a green light (typically visible with a white light when a boat is approaching from the port, or left side) means you have the right of way and can continue your course. Red, visible when a craft approaches from the starboard or right side, means your boat does not have the right of way and you should stop. Seeing all three lights – green, red and white – will mean you are approaching the boat head on, so steer clear and avoid a collision. Lastly, a white light on its own also indicates that you do not have the right of way, as you are either approaching from behind, or approaching a non-powered or anchored boat.

It’s also important to note that when driving a powerboat, you must always give way to commercial fishing boats, sailboats and boats that aren’t under command i.e. anchored, or broken down boats. You also need to give way to any crafts with restricted mobility, such as a towing boat. If two power boats are heading right towards each other, neither craft has the right of way – it’s up to you as the driver to ensure you use correct observation in advance in order to avoid traffic so you do not collide.

Boating in Manitoba

Signalling By Sound

We now know the rules for navigating and overtaking other boats across inland waters in Manitoba, but how do you let other boats aware of the course of action you are planning to take? There are five clear signals you can provide to other boating traffic. They are:

  • One short blast = I’m altering my course to starboard (right).
  • Two short blasts = I’m altering my course to port (left).
  • Three short blasts = I’m operating my boat in reverse.
  • Five rapid blasts = I’m unsure of the other boater’s intentions.
  • One long blast = I’m driving a motorboat of 12m or more, and leaving the dock.

That’s an overview of the basics of boating navigation, but there’s lots more to learn. Everyone who operates a power-boat in Manitoba needs to be licensed to drive it. You can get your Pleasure Craft Operator Card (PCOC) – which is essentially your boating driving licence – by taking a short 3-hour course. You can even get you a temporary licence, so that you can get out on the water as soon as you’ve passed!

BOATSMART PCOC CARD manitoba boat license

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