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Know the dangers of cold water
Ice Safety

As with most things in winter, it is important to remember to be prepared and stay safe. Here are some safety tips and things to remember when venturing out onto the many lakes in Muskoka this season. 

Uneven Ice

  • remember—ice doesn’t freeze at a uniform thickness
  • near-shore ice is often much thicker and safer than ice farther out, especially at the start of the winter season
  • watch for open water near the shore created by dock bubbler systems
  • check thickness regularly with a spud bar or auger as you move farther out
  • ice that formed over flowing water, springs, pressure cracks, old ice holes or around the mouths of rivers and streams can be weaker than surrounding ice
  • Keep an eye out for Ice Shoves/Pressure cracks that appear on the lakes

Colour Of the Ice

  • clear blue/black ice is the strongest
  • white or opaque ice is much weaker
  • grey ice indicates that water is present and ice may be weak or slushy
  • stay away from ice that looks honeycombed, common during thaws or in the spring

Driving on ice

  • be careful when driving snowmobiles or vehicles over frozen lakes or rivers
  • People need at least 10 cm and snowmobiles need at least 20 centimetres (8 inches) of clear blue ice (See Chart Above)
  • double the thickness if the ice is white or opaque
  • Avoid driving at night and in areas you are unfamiliar with
  • heavy snow on a frozen lake or river slows down the freezing process
  • If traveling in an inclosed vehicle leave doors unlocked, windows down, lights on and seatbelts off to facilitate a quick escape. Do not wear a lifejacket or floatation suit while inside as these may hamper escape 
  • Do not drink and drive

Be Prepared

  • check ice conditions either with local ice hut operators, bait shops, snowmobile clubs or by cutting holes in the ice in various locations  
  • let others know where you’re planning to fish or ride and when you plan to return
  • wear appropriate clothing and equipment for safety and comfort. This includes a floatation suit, ice picks, helmet, insulated clothing
  • Carry safety equipment with you including rope, pocket knife, compass, whistle, fire starter kit and cell phone 

For more information on Ice safety or to check out courses regarding winter survival check out these links below. Remember- NO ICE IS WITHOUT RISK

muskoka
Muskoka Lakes Towns and Townships

AKA: Those Who Set the Bylaws

There are four Towns and Townships around the Muskoka Lakes and each has separate bylaws that govern what can be built on any particular property. Here is a round-up of the Towns and Townships, their respective jurisdictions and contact information.

The Township of Muskoka Lakes is the largest and the majority of cottage properties are in this township.

Seguin Township governs the northernmost portions of Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau.

The Town of Gravenhurst and Town of Bracebridge have portions of Lake Muskoka within their town boundaries.

All of them are within the District of Muskoka, and they are all subject to the District Bylaws.

 

The District of Muskoka

This is the uppermost governing body in the region and its offices are located in Bracebridge.

Phone: 705-645-2231

Address: 70 Pine Street, Bracebridge

Website: https://www.muskoka.on.ca/en/index.aspx


The Township of Muskoka Lakes

The largest area of the three big lakes is in this Township.

Phone: 705-765-3156

Address: 1 Bailey Street, Port Carling, P0B1J0

Website: http://www.muskokalakes.ca/


The Town of Gravenhurst

The southernmost Town on the Muskoka Lakes system.

Phone: 705-687-3412

Address: 3-5 Pineridge Gate, Gravenhurst, P1P 1Z3

Website: http://www.gravenhurst.ca/en/index.asp


The Town of Bracebridge

Includes a large swath of the eastern part of mid-Lake Muskoka

Phone: 705-645-5264

Address: 1000 Taylor Court, Bracebridge, ON P1L 1R6

Website: http://www.bracebridge.ca/en/index.aspx


Seguin Township

Has jurisdiction over the most northern parts of Lake Rosseau & Lake Joseph.

Phone: 705-732-4300

Address: 5 Humphrey Drive, Seguin

Website: https://www.seguin.ca/en/index.aspx

 

Muskoka Associations

There are several consumer and heritage groups keeping a watch on our community that enhance the Muskoka Experience.

There are plenty of benefits and joining connects you to your local community, these groups are a valuable source of information, supports the community and allows its members to pool their resources, address issues of concern and maximize its members’ influence in the political and environmental realm. You might just make a few friends along the way!

Muskoka Ratepayers Association

Serving the ratepayers in Muskoka, this worthy group keeps a close eye on the actions of our elected officials and provides members regular updates and areas of concern.

Website: http://www.muskokaratepayers.ca/


Muskoka Lakes Association

The Muskoka Lakes Association was formed in 1894 and is Canada’s oldest cottage association.
Website: www.mla.on.ca


Muskoka Conservancy

The Muskoka Conservancy believes in working with the community to create and support a vibrant Muskoka that honours the traditions of the community and protects our natural spaces.

Website: www.muskokaconservancy.org

 

Private Buoy Regulations

For those whose cottages are located in busy boat traffic areas, it is a good idea to set out private buoys to remind boaters of the rules of speed and safety.

If you do, be sure you are adhering to the following regulations.

Private Buoy Regulations

Statutory Orders and Regulations (SOR) 99-335

1. In these Regulations, “private buoy” means a buoy that is not owned by the federal government, a provincial government or a government agency.

2. These Regulations apply to every private buoy other than private buoys used to mark fishing gear.

3. No person shall place in any Canadian waters a private buoy that interferes with or is likely to interfere with the navigation of any vessel, or that misleads or is likely to mislead the operator of any vessel.

4. (1) No person shall place a private buoy in any Canadian waters unless:

(a) the part of the buoy that shows above the surface of the water is at least 15.25 cm wide and at least 30.5 cm high;

(b) the buoy displays, on opposite sides, the capital letters “PRIV” that are

(i) as large as is practical for the size of the buoy, and

(ii) white when the background colour is red, green or black;

(iii) black when the background colour is white or yellow;

(c) the buoy complies with the requirements set out in Canadian Aids to Navigation (TP 968) published by the Canadian Coast Guard in 1995, as amended from time to time;

(d) the buoy displays, in a conspicuous location and in a permanent and legible manner, the name, address and telephone number of its owner;

(e) the buoy is constructed and maintained in a manner and with materials that ensure that it remains in position and retains the characteristics specified in paragraphs (a) to (d); and

(f) the buoy’s anchor is constructed and maintained in a manner and with materials that ensure that it remains in position.

(2) The owner of a private buoy placed in any Canadian waters shall ensure that the information required by paragraph (1)(d) is accurate at all times.

5. If there is a need for increased visibility or better identification of a buoy for safety and the prevention of accidents, the Minister of Transport may order the owner of the buoy to modify it according to the requirements set out in the Procedures Manual for Design and Review of Short-range Aids to Navigation Systems (TP 9677), published in March 1989 by the Canadian Coast Guard, as amended from time to time. SOR/2002-19, s. 1; SOR/2010-27, s. 1.

6. (Previous Version) No person shall place in any Canadian waters a private buoy that has a light unless the light remains lit throughout the night and meets the requirements referred to in paragraph 4(1)(c).

7. (Removal) The Minister of Transport may remove from any Canadian waters a private buoy that does not comply with these Regulations.

From: Private Buoy Regulations
Statutory Orders and Regulations
SOR/99-335
CANADA SHIPPING ACT, 2001

The Muskoka Watershed

As a Realtor who lives and works in Muskoka I am acutely aware of the magnificence of our lakes. I am convinced that, as a resident of this area, I have a small but vital role to play in protecting them. That requires that I have a good understanding of how they function so I have made every effort to learn all about them so I can be a good steward and promote good stewardship to my clients.

Lake Muskoka is part of a large watershed called the Muskoka River Watershed. The Muskoka River Watershed covers a large area on the eastern side of Georgian Bay. Its headwaters are found on the western slopes of Algonquin Park, and flow southwesterly for a distance of approximately 210 km to discharge into the southeast corner of Georgian Bay. It encompasses many of Muskoka’s most well know lakes including Lake of Bays, Mary’s Lake and of course Lake Rosseau, Lake Joseph and Lake Muskoka.

The watershed measures over 62 km at its widest point and is approximately 120 km long, encompassing an area of approximately 4,660 sq. km. The watershed is divided into three drainage areas, the North Branch, South Branch, and Lower Muskoka. The North and South Branches make up the eastern two-thirds of the watershed. The Lower Muskoka sub watershed covers approximately the western one-third of the watershed, and receives the inflow from both the North and South Branches as well as Lakes Joseph and Rosseau. This combined flow passes through the Moon and Musquash Rivers and discharges into Georgian Bay.

There are over 2000 lakes within the watershed of all sizes covering about 17% of the total area. They are what makes Muskoka “Cottage Country” bringing hundreds of thousands of visitors and recreational owners to the region to enjoy the beauty. The Muskoka River descends approximately 345 m in elevation along its 210 km journey from its headwaters to its mouth at Georgian Bay.

Watersheds are nature’s way of cleaning our environment, they have three primary functions: to capture water, to filter and store water in the soil and to release water into a water body. You could think of a watershed as a giant sponge, as precipitation falls, it is stored in the watershed’s land and water bodies (the giant sponge) and slowly released through shallow water discharge into the river.

Why is understanding the watershed important, you may ask? Well, as all living things in our region, including us humans, depend upon this ecosystem we need to be invested in its wellbeing. The effects of forestry, agriculture, industry and urbanization are all recorded in the water as it flows along its path. For better or worse, each tributary stream, wetland or spring which joins together reflects the health of the region in which it is found and we need to make sure our foot print on it is minimal.

How can you be a positive contributor to its wellbeing? I say by doing little things like selecting phosphate free detergents and cleaners if you are on septic system, make sure your septic is inspected regularly and replaced when needed, using all natural insecticides and pesticides in your garden and making sure your boat motor is well tuned up and not leaking oil and fuel into the lake.

I am sure you can think of more but you can see how if we all take on this mind set of caring, things cannot fail but to protect what we all value. There is a great deal of information about all things to do with our waterways including information about the Muskoka Watershed at www.muskokawaterweb.ca

-Sharon Aiken

Winter Ice at Your Muskoka Cottage

We all know the quote from Shakespeare is actually “double double toil and trouble”, but those who do not want the “double trouble” of ice damage on their docks are likely to look into installing a bubbler or agitator system to protect waterfront structures at their Muskoka cottage.

If that is you, be warned that there are some serious considerations to make before you decide whether to install one. And if you do, it’s important to know how to properly manage it.

The decision to install a bubbler or agitator is often made based solely on protecting the often very large investment made in creating wonderful docks and boat house structures at the shoreline or our waterfront properties. We have all heard the stories of the dangers a dock bubbler has on people, snowmobilers, and even pets. Transport Canada has this on its site: “Note: The action of safeguarding the ice and the hole that is created is a criminal code responsibility. It falls under the Criminal Code under “Duty to safeguard opening in ice”. Any questions regarding the marking of the opening in the ice should be directed to your local OPP detachment.”

In addition, did you know that while a bubbler is protecting your property, there are many instances in which a dock bubbler can cause intense damage to a neighbour’s dock and boathouse? This is not only going to cause an issue with your neighbour, but it also adds to the wooden debris on the open water resulting in a hazardous situation for boaters. There is an increasing amount of evidence that using a bubbler/agitator has a negative effect on hibernating animals in the area and by keeping large areas of water open and subject to the warming effect of the winter sun, it is thought that overall lake temperatures will increase, affecting the whole eco system of the lakes.

The purpose of a bubbler or agitator is to create an open water buffer between the structure and expanding/contracting ice. A five-foot ribbon of open water or thin ice around the front and down the sides of the dock is usually all that is necessary to minimize damage from contraction and expansion. Satellite images of the lakes in Muskoka reveal that many systems are keeping more than twenty feet of water open and in some smaller bays, where several owners have systems, the entire bay is being kept open. What you may not know is that, using a bubbler won’t help is during spring break-up. This is when the majority of severe damage occurs. Ice usually melts around the shoreline first, which means that most lakes will have a 20 to 50 feet open area around the shore. Nothing is going to prevent huge slab of 5” thick ice moving at 1 mph from doing severe damage to you dock at this stage…no matter how many bubbles are still blowing. So if it’s a windy day when the ice starts to break-up and move around, it sometimes comes down to a matter of luck.

The decision to create some rules for the use of bubblers has been made at the Township of Lake of Bays. Muskoka Lakes and other area Townships are in the process of deciding on what rules and method of enforcement they will put in place. It is very difficult for our Townships to enforce anything at all as the legal mechanism for enforcement of activities on a waterway is not part of their mandate.

Here are some “Best Practices” for the use of a bubbler/agitator system taken from a list created by the Lake of Bays Association for its members.

1. Place/angle your device properly. If an agitator is used, be aware that angling it toward the shore directs the flow inwards and not out into the lake, minimizing the amount of open water created.

2. Install a timer and/or thermostat. Operating your ice-away device 24/7 from fall to spring can result in excessive open water. Eight to 12 hours per day is usually sufficient at Lake of Bays to maintain an appropriate amount of open water around your structure. Using a timer and/or thermostatic switch also reduces energy consumption and saves you money. Unnecessary running time can also be controlled by setting a thermostat control that switches the device off if the air temperature is above freezing.

3. Mark open water with warning signs / lights display signage to alert others to the potential danger of open water. These red and white signs are available at most hardware stores in the area or where ice-away devices are sold. However, signs will not prevent animals from falling in; some property owners also put yellow warning tape and fencing around the open water. At night, the snowmobile community recommends displaying a flashing amber light because it signifies caution. A red light can be mistaken for the taillight of another snowmobile and bright white strobe lights are offensive to neighbours.

4. Monitor your property. If you are not using your property in the winter, have it checked periodically to ensure your ice away-device is working properly and that your warning sign(s) and lighting are in place. Turn your device off when / if the water levels are lowered in your lake (usually March).

5. Be ice smart. No ice is without risk. Snowmobilers, skiers, skaters and hikers should exercise caution while on the ice and stay well clear of docks and boathouses. It is clear there will be more debate on this matter and we hope we have informed you a little.

Here’s another article on the subject: To Bubble or Not to Bubble, from the Muskoka Lakes Association.