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What is a Safe Speed for a Vessel?

June 30, 2022

Determining the right speed for your vessel is not always an easy task. Speed limits are not as ubiquitous on the water as they are on roadways, and much depends on your surroundings and the current environmental and meteorological conditions. Boaters are expected to accurately assess the situation at hand and adjust their speed accordingly.

At what speed should every vessel navigate?

Boaters should always obey speed limits when available. Speed limits will often be posted on buoys or markers in the water, generally in km/h. The Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations also provide a list of speed limits for specific parts of various waterways in Canada. Several Canadian provinces have a blanket 10 km/h speed limit on vessels within 30 m of shore, which may not be posted but must nevertheless be obeyed.

The most important consideration when determining boating speed is the safety of those on the boat and in the surrounding area. Certain conditions may require slower speeds than the posted limit in order to ensure everyone’s safety.

What determines if a speed is safe for your pleasure craft?

There are many factors boat operators need to consider when determining a safe speed:

  • Visibility conditions (fog, mist, rain, darkness, etc.)
  • Wind conditions
  • Tides and currents
  • Vessel maneuverability
  • The amount of traffic on the waterway
  • Navigational hazards
  • Water depth

It’s important to remember that the faster a boat is moving, the longer it will take to come to a stop. High speeds can also be harder to control, particularly in adverse weather conditions.


When boating, operators need to be mindful of the safety of the other people using the waterway as well as their own. Powerboats generate a wake as they move through the water, the size of which depends on speed and water depth. A large enough wake can cause smaller boats to capsize and be dangerous for people in the water.

Boaters are legally responsible for navigating in such a way that their wake doesn’t harm anyone or cause any damage.

Learn more about boating safety with Drive a Boat Canada!

Boat operators need to be aware of situations and conditions that can endanger them and others and know which steps to take to mitigate the risk. That’s why boaters are required by law to take a safety course and pass an online boating exam. Register today to get your Canada boat license and begin your boating adventure!