Cottage safety 101: tips for staying safe while enjoying outdoor activities

While the name of the game at the cottage is having fun, it is important to use common sense. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
While the name of the game at the cottage is having fun, it is important to use common sense. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

When the warm weather comes to Canada, or at least when the overnight frost warnings decrease in frequency, cottage season begins. Every weekend, cities across the country empty as urban dwellers beat a hasty (or not-so hasty, depending on the traffic) retreat to the semi-wilderness.

While the name of the game at the cottage is having fun, it is important to exercise caution, use common sense, and obey pertinent laws and regulations when you are at the cottage, whether it’s a rental or if it’s your own. Let’s go over a few important tips for having a safe time at the cottage. You can read it while you’re stuck in traffic on the way up.

Heading out on the water

Some of the best fun to be found in cottage country is out on the lake. Boating is a great summer activity, whether you’re out fishing, tubing, skiing or just taking a pleasure cruise. Unsafe boating, however, is a leading cause of holiday accidents. According to statistics from the Canadian Red Cross, an average of 101 people die in summer boating incidents every year.

Sadly, many of those deaths are preventable. Alcohol plays a role in around 41 percent of boating deaths for people aged 15 and over. Of those who perished, only 13 percent were wearing a lifejacket.

Common sense should dictate that drinking and boating do not mix. If it doesn’t, however, just remember that the law does. The best advice is to leave the drinks on the dock and wear a lifejacket. Also, remember that anyone operating a motorized pleasure craft of any size (including jet-skis), requires a Pleasure Craft Operating Card by law. Boating without one could cost you a $250 fine.

Roast marshmallows, not cottages

Everyone loves a campfire up at the cottage. There’s nothing quite like sitting under the stars, roasting snacks and maybe singing a few songs around a roaring fire. Just remember to exercise care with your fire: cottages, decks and docks are usually made of wood and can catch fire from stray sparks.

The use of outdoor fire pits is regulated by municipal bylaws and they vary from place to place. Make sure your fire pit or outdoor fireplace meets local requirements before you light up. Take the time to inspect the pit for flaws, cracks or anything else that could cause an accident.

Keep fires clear from overhanging branches, eaves, and away from dry brush or natural debris on the ground. You should make sure the eavestroughs and roof of your cottage are clear of twigs and dry leaves, as they can easily start to burn should cinders touch them.

You might want to try a propane fire pit in place of a wood-burner. Propane fires are easy to control and contain, and they switch off in an instant without leaving smouldering coals behind that could reignite when left unattended.

Taking the time to prepare for a safe time for you and your friends and family at the cottage might cut into your recreation time but only marginally. In the end, it’s always better to come home with stories of big fish and big fun than big fines and big fires.
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