Just two years after forming, Safe Quiet Lakes’ Decibel Coalition is continuing to gain support from associations wanting to see changes to the legislation surrounding boating noise limits. 

Rob Bosomworth is the project lead for the Decibel Coalition. “It’s a big hill to climb to get Transport Canada to change the rules,” he tells the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom. The coalition was formed in 2019 and began working with Transport Canada in the fall of 2020. “We need to be able to tell Transport Canada that this is a national problem,” Bosomworth goes on to say.

“The one thing that is apparent is that the rules for large bodies of water – Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Georgian Bay – are not necessarily appropriate for smaller bodies of water like Lake Rosseau, Joseph, and Muskoka,” Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding says. He adds that changes need to be made to the Navigation Act to differentiate the way we treat vessels, noise restrictions and operation restrictions and make it so all waterways aren’t treated as one when it comes to vessel regulations. “I’d personally love to see a change for Transport Canada to implement mandatory efficiency testing, rather than just knowledge testing for people who get behind the wheel of a boat,” Harding goes on to say.

The goal of the Decibel Coalition is to enhance the existing legislation in place for small vessels to include decibel limits. The coalition calls the current legislation “weak” and difficult to enforce. Bosomworth says you must have a muffler if you’re operating a boat on Canadian waterways, but a decibel limit is not in place. The proposal the coalition is putting forward is that the law be expanded to include decibel limits on motor noise from boats and base that on international measurement standards and decibel levels. The changes must also be easy to understand and enforce. 

Bosomworth adds that there isn’t a performance standard for mufflers either. “A muffler could be – technically – anything that reduces the noise a little bit,” he says, pointing out that there’s no decibel limit currently in place for boats.

A survey was done by Safe Quiet Lakes in 2017 with 46-percent of the 3,300 respondents “view personal watercraft as contributing to unwanted noise,” which was the highest percentage of the five options. 

Harding says the emerging trends are that boats are getting faster, wakes are getting larger and more inexperienced boaters are on the waterways. “People generally don’t understand the impact of their boat on neighbouring properties,” he says, adding that he agrees with Safe Quiet Lakes that people need to have a better understanding of that before they get behind the wheel of their boat.

The coalition has spent just over a year lobbying Transport Canada to create a better set of rules for boaters. Bosomworth says they have been recruiting members from across the country, not just Muskoka. For changes to be made, he says they can’t just have a handful of people who own cottages on Lake Joseph hoping for a meeting with the department. So far, Bosomworth says they have the support of “quite a few” municipal governments in and around Muskoka, with some members from Quebec and British Columbia. 

Last November, Bosomworth says proposals to revise the regulations were put forward during a Transport Canada meeting and were discussed. Nothing has come of those discussions yet, but he says that’s good news because it shows the government is thinking about the issue.

In the organization’s survey, 31-percent of respondents said there’s no need for additional laws and regulations to “protect our enjoyment of the lakes,” but 45-percent say there are more rules needed.

According to Bosomworth, the “vast majority” of powerboats on the lakes in Muskoka comply with the laws in place, while only a “handful” of high-performance boats don’t. “We don’t want to get rid of the boats, we’re all boat drivers,” he says. “We just want people to use the lakes respectfully.”