What Equipment Is Required To Operate A Small Boat For Work?

When it comes to compliance for rescue agencies and employers that use small boats, there can be a lot of overwhelming information. Sometimes all you want to know is what equipment is required to operate a small boat for work? … but with multi-jurisdictional and overlapping regulations, Transport Canada requirements, NFPA standards, and more, the training, equipping, and crewing of small boats can be a complex undertaking.

Navigating these regulations is just as important as navigating the waterways. There are a few topics in particular that are commonly misunderstood by Canadian rescue agencies and employers when it comes to small boat operation and compliance – crewing, certifications, and equipment requirements. 

We’ll cover crewing requirements and certifications requirements in other articles.  The focus here is onboard equipment requirements.

How Is Your Boat Designated?

Boats or vessels are designated by their purpose, length, gross tonnage, and the class of waterways they sail on.  Different designations mean different onboard equipment requirements (and different crewing requirements, and certification requirements, for that matter).

The primary designation to be aware of is between “pleasure craft” and “non-pleasure vessel” – check out this chart from Transport Canada for an easy-to-understand deliniation between the two categories. 

Many small departments and employers in Canada (fire departments, SAR teams and fisheries workers are all great examples) operate small vessels (less than 6 metres in length overall) in sheltered, or class 1 waters. Some boat operators conclude that, becuase their boat is small and the waters are sheltered, and because the only certification they were required to obtain was a Pleasure Craft Operator, they fall within the “pleasure craft” category.  But it isn’t that straightforward.

A “non-pleasure vessel” could be anything from a workboat or passenger vessel, to a government or commercial vessel, and could come in the form of a canoe, motorboat or sailboat.  The term “commercial” gets used as a bit of a catch-all for all the various types of non-pleasure vessels available (we know, it’s confusing… considering the fact that “commercial” is also an official designation!)

Swiftwater Rescue Motorized Boat Operator

Your Equipment Requirements

There are five categories of onboard equipment that all boats or vessels need to carry, regardless of designation.  To keep your crew or vessel compliant, these items must be on board if asked for by a peace officer or marine safety inspector, or in the case of a workplace accident or investigation:

  1. First Aid Equipment
  2. Life Saving Appliances
  3. Vessel Safety Equipment
  4. Navigation Equipment
  5. Fire Fighting Equipment         

Pleasure craft equipment lists can be found in Part 2 of the Small Vessel Regulations.

However, for everything that isn’t a pleasure craft (from workboats to commercial vessels) additional requirements and specific pieces of equipment must be on board to maintain compliance.

Whether you’re a rescue boat operator (SAR or fire, for example), or a boat operator who may have to perform a rescue one day at work (such as a fisheries worker), you should have a good knowledge and understanding of the Small Vessel Regulations so that you can ensure you know what equipment is required to operate a small boat for work. 

Crewing requirements for work boats, and certification requirements will be covered in another article. Stay tuned!

Written by Steve Ruskay. Steve is an Instructor for Raven Rescue Safety Medical, as well as Passenger Vessel Captain, Rescue Boat Instructor, and Firefighter.