Four people in a motorboat cruise towards a harbourfront pavilion.

Lake of the Woods | Andrew Scott

Introduction to boating in Ontario

Four people in a motorboat cruise towards a harbourfront pavilion.

Lake of the Woods | Andrew Scott

In Ontario, there’s as much water as there is land. From the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean, and countless rivers and millions of lakes in between, it’s clear that if you truly want to experience this province you must get out on the water.

You can rent a pontoon boat for a cottage country adventure in the Muskokas, navigate historic canals and locks in eastern Ontario, cruise blue water on the Great Lakes, go fishing pretty much anywhere or share some family wakesport thrills on Cottage Country lakes.

This article provides an overview of the best boating in Ontario, as well as critical information about where to rent a boat in Ontario, marinas, rules and safety and great boating destinations.

Ontario boating season

The Ontario boating season generally runs from late May through early October, though colder water and unpredictable weather in the spring and fall means it’s safest to navigate the Great Lakes and other larger Ontario bodies of water in July and August.

Where to rent a boat

There is a wide variety of Ontario boat rentals and boating experiences available across the province.

For example, houseboats are popular as vacation rentals on large bodies of water including Lake of the Woods, Temagami and the Kawartha Lakes. Ontario houseboat rentals often come with a smaller aluminum boat so can go fishing and take day trips from a base camp location.

Lodges in Northern Ontario rent well-equipped fishing boats so more experienced boaters and anglers can enjoy a self-guided day on the water. Meanwhile, less experienced guests can hire a guide and benefit from local knowledge in finding fishing hotspots and the best scenery.

Pontoon boats offer safe and convenient platforms for family trips on the water, and you’ll find multiple sizes and options available at Ontario marinas in popular cottage areas like the Muskokas and the Kawartha Lakes. Similarly, most Ontario boating destinations also offer personal watercraft rentals.

Ski, tow and wakeboat rentals in Ontario are more limited, though enthusiasts will find rentals available in several locations in central Ontario, including Muskoka and Lake Simcoe.

To rent a boat in Ontario you are required to complete a proof of competency. A Pleasure Craft Operator’s Licence is recommended (but not required) to operate a rental boat.

Check out this article for a complete rundown of where to rent boats in Ontario.

Services and amenities at Ontario marinas

In Ontario, you’ll find marinas wherever there’s water.

Services at Ontario’s marinas will vary and may include fuel, pump-outs, showers, boat and engine service, rentals and more, in addition to docking, boat launches and parking.

Here’s a complete list of Ontario marinas from across the province.

Additionally, you’ll find municipal and provincial boat launches on bodies of water across Ontario. These sites are often marked by highway signs and include ramps and parking. Some also feature docking, fuel and washroom facilities.

Boating regulations, safety and licences

Pleasure Craft Operators Card and boating licence

You need to have a Pleasure Craft Operator’s Card (PCOC) to drive a motor-powered boat in Ontario—unless you are renting. In this case, you’ll need proof of competency, commonly known as a rental boat safety checklist and a formal rental agreement take precedence.

Regardless, the PCOC is recommended and highly worthwhile. This affordable training issues you a lifetime licence and more importantly provides crucial knowledge including basic boating skills, as well as weather, navigation and how to deal with emergencies like capsizing and swamping that could save your life.

There are multiple options to do the training and obtain your Ontario boating licence online. An online practice test is also available. The fines for operating a personal motor-powered boat in Ontario without a licence start at $200.

Boating regulations

You must adhere to the Canadian Coast Guard’s Small Vessel Regulations while boating in Ontario. Depending on the size of vessel, these include personal flotation devices, vessel safety equipment (such as oars and anchors), visual signals (including flares), navigation equipment and fire-fighting equipment.

This document provides a good summary of Canada boating regulations for each class of vessel. Fines apply for each required item missing if you are subjected to an inspection.

Fishing licence

Ontario fishing licences are available for Ontario residents, Canadian residents and non-residents. Single-day, eight-day (non-residents only) and annual licences are available, with Sport and Conservation options.

Best places to go boating

There is no shortage of amazing places to go boating in Ontario, so the best places really depend on your personal preferences.

Here are some suggestions for different types of boating.

Cruise the inland seas

The Great Lakes offer something for every type of boater, from sailing Lake Ontario beneath the Toronto skyline, fishing Lake Erie and day tripping in Eastern Ontario’s Thousand Islands to multi day cruising adventures on Georgian Bay, Lake Huron’s North Channel and the wilderness coastline of Lake Superior.

Navigate the canals

The Trent-Severn Waterway is a historic route across central Ontario, linking Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay. It’s the perfect way for experienced boaters to cross Ontario by boat. The Rideau Canal offers a similar experience from Kingston to Ottawa.

Houseboating Lake of the Woods

Thousands of wilderness islands, world-class fishing and Ontario’s best sunsets make Lake of the Woods a renowned destination for all types of boating. Rent a houseboat in Kenora to get up close and personal with it all, from your floating cottage.

French River

The waters of the French River will give you a taste of what makes Ontario one of the best fishing destinations in the world. They are easily accessible yet offer a huge diversity of boating and angling, from the open waters of Lake Nipissing at the river’s source to labyrinthine islands at its mouth on Georgian Bay.


Ontario’s Cottage Country appeals to a wide range of boating styles. Pontoon boats offer stable platforms for family outings on cottage lakes, while towboats and personal watercraft bring thrills and excitement to the cottage. Simply put, there’s something for just about every type of boater in Ontario’s Muskoka lakes.

Get more inspiration and information from this regional guide on where to go boating in Ontario.

Last updated: April 23, 2024

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