It’s at Transport Canada. The responsibility for controlling excessive boat engine noise should not be left to citizens or local authorities who do not have the appropriate resources.

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At a time when we are prioritizing environmental action and supporting regulation more than ever, we must recognize that the well-being of Canada’s lakes is at risk. In Canada, poor boating regulations lead to negative impacts on our waterways from an environmental and human perspective. Updating the regulations deserves our attention and our action.

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Regulations are best when they serve two purposes. First, they serve and are seen to serve a beneficial and advantageous purpose. Second, they must be easily enforceable. Some federal boating regulations fail to achieve these goals because they are flawed, outdated, nearly unenforceable, and often far behind those of the United States and the European Union.

An example is the problem of excessively noisy boat engines which, over time, harm the environment of our waterways. Current regulations require small vessels to have a working muffler. However, these same regulations lack decibel limits on how much noise an engine can make. Transport Canada, which is the regulator of Canadian waterways, recently acknowledged what law enforcement agencies have long known: without clear standards defining decibel limits, current regulations are too difficult and costly to to apply.

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Canadians place great importance on improving and protecting our environment, so it is only natural that we should consider the impacts of boat noise on marine life and the environment. Very noisy motorboats disturb and frighten small mammals and waterfowl, which impacts the interaction of marine and wildlife species in their habitats. Research funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada shows that Canada’s freshwater biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate. Other research also suggests the importance of mitigating noise pollution to help preserve biodiversity and aquatic life. Of the options we have to proactively help and preserve marine life in Canada, boating regulation is one avenue that is seriously under-examined.

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The responsibility for controlling excessive boat engine noise should not be left to citizens or local authorities who do not have the appropriate resources. The solution is for Transport Canada to introduce objective and measurable decibel limits for boat engine noise for manufacturers and operators. Combined with efficient and effective enforcement procedures, these improved regulations would give enforcement agencies the tools they need to do their job, for the benefit of the environment and the people who benefit from our waterways.

Fortunately, Transport Canada is actively considering options to update boat muffler and noise emission regulations. In March, they opened online public consultations, which end today (May 13). They presented five options; however, only the fifth option will effectively solve the problem: introduce noise emission performance standards (i.e. decibel limits) that ship builders and operators will have to follow.

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The lack of clearer and enforceable noise emission regulations for motorboats also offers opportunities for the development and improvement of other nautical regulations. This includes examining very large wakes caused by boats designed to create abnormally large and powerful waves. Studies are emerging that document just how destructive these waves are to shorelines and shore-nesting waterfowl, such as the loon. Safety hazards to swimmers, small watercraft and property damage are also risks. Where some marinas and harbors have designated no-wake zones, most lakes in Canada do not have these options and currently there are no federal regulations on this. Again, some US states have begun to study this issue and are working to establish regulations. It is time for Canada to do the same.

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We urge Transport Canada to align outdated regulations with those implemented in other countries that have proven to have positive benefits on some of the most visited and valued regions of our country. This will ensure that boating on Canadian lakes can continue to be a enjoyed and enjoyed summer activity, while minimizing harm to our wildlife, freshwater biodiversity, and all those who enjoy various other activities on Canada’s waterways.

Diane Piquet is Chairman of the Board of Safe Quiet Lakes. Rob Bosomworth is president of the national commission Decibel Coalition. Gary Milne is President of Shuswap and Mara Lake Decibel Coalition.

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