The summer of 2019 has not been a great boating season for those who are moored on Lakes around Canada. Water levels have been on the rise, affecting shorelines and marinas, especially on the Great Lakes.

Great Lakes experience high water levels

Water levels rose to unprecedented levels in 2017 in what many yacht club members called a ‘once-in-a-lifetime event.’ But now, many of them are saying that these water levels surpass those from two years ago.

Earlier this year the Kingston Yacht Club was partially under water and more recently Bluffers Park Yacht Club is experiencing a major set back, with most of the entire wooden dock structure completely under water. According to club members 90% of boats have not even started. Returning to the dock is a safety issue and there is not electricity as the electrical system is also under water.

Nature vs man, what is causing high water levels

There is controversy around the primary source of the high water levels. Some locals believe it relates to The International Joint Commission implemented a new flood plan nearly three years ago ‘to enhance wetland biodiversity.’ But according to Kevin Bunch, spokesperson for International Joint Commission, “There is no human reason or purpose behind raising water levels”. But rather the high water levels are due to extremely high inflows and higher levels of precipitation.

Securing your boat

What boat owners know is that a boat needs to be used and cared for on a regular basis to keep it in tip top shape. If your boat has been the recipient of high water levels at several Ontario marinas, you may not have been able to take your boat out, or even service it for regular maintenance.

Secure your boat if you leave it in the water

For boats that remain in the water, ensure to remove valuable items. Insurance does not cover personal  items left on the vessel that mysteriously disappear. Assign a caretaker to check on the boat, inside and out, if you’re going to be away for more than 24 hours. This will ensure if the boat is taking on water, sinking, or has been broken into, action can be taken to mitigate further losses and damage. Make sure the lines are secure, and bumpers are in place. Check bilge pumps are functional before leaving the boat, and always turn off any propane sources on the boat.

Operating your boat in high water levels

With the high water levels this year on the Ontario lakes, additional safety measures are necessary.

1. Keep an eye out for debris such as loose dock materials, logs and other dangers that can lurk just below the surface.

2. Avoid areas where there is flooding, deep water and strong currents.

3. Fixed objects like seawall, breakwaters and docks may also be underwater. Extra caution should be taken when travelling to unfamiliar areas because many of these hazards are not marked with buoys or on navigation charts.

4. Strong currents can make navigating more difficult, and can be extremely dangerous for swimmers, and water sports such as skiing and tubing.

5. Keep wake to a minimum closer to shore, as large wakes could create more damage in areas with high water levels. Check with your marina or local authorities if “no wake” rules have been imposed.

6. Avoid swimming or stepping onto docks, piers or marinas that are submerged. If electricity is present, there is a real hazard for electric shock drowning.

7. If your boat is at a fixed dock, check your fenders and mooring lines daily in times of fluctuating water levels.

8.  High water levels may cause navigation buoys to drift out of position. If you see a buoy out of position connect with the Canadian Coast Guard.

Hopefully, the summer of 2019 will be the last of the high water levels, but history may be telling us otherwise. We may need to get used to a new normal when it comes to climate change and water safety. Stay safe on the water and without a doubt, always wear a life jacket or personal flotation device.

Resources & Additional Information

Global News Lake Ontario flooding leave boaters stranded
LP Press: Boaters Cautioned about high water and flotsam
Global News:  Kingston Yacht Club high water levels
The Blade:  Great Lakes water levels
Petoskey News:  High water levels prompt reminders about local watercraft controls. 

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