Cottage Safety: Tips for Summer Sports and Activities

Father and son fishing in front of their wooden cottage on water, shallow doff

Summer at the cottage is full of exciting and fun activities. Pastimes such as swimming, boating, roasting marshmallows by the campfire, and fishing all provide lasting memories for friends and family. That being said, cottagers should take all necessary precautions to ensure your family and visitors are safe while on your property.

Boats and other watercraft

All watercraft should be properly insured. In Ontario, most standard cottage property insurance policies do not cover watercraft. Insurance policies will often vary depending on the type of watercraft to be insured and the extent of the coverage. Often this is expressed in terms of watercraft (e.g. jet ski type craft or boat), and by engine horsepower. If you have any of these watercraft at your cottage, be sure to review your coverage with an experienced insurance broker and ensure that you have an appropriate marine insurance policy. Always wear lifejackets when using any watercraft.


Swimming is not generally thought of a dangerous pastime, but drowning is a serious risk. Many injuries also occur from diving into the lake. Ensure that all of your family and visitors are well aware of the water depths around the cottage. Many Canadian cottages are located on lakes or rivers that are controlled by dams. Water levels can fluctuate rapidly and without warning if, for instance, dam operators open sluices and release a large volume of water. Be sure to warn your guests of the risks, and consider posting NO DIVING signs on your property and dock.


Campfires are lots of fun and are a tradition at many cottages. Be sure the fire pit is properly constructed. (Look online for tips on how to build one). The pit should not be in an area around overhanging trees. The ground underneath the pit must not be flammable, and the pit area should be lined with sand and surrounded with a ring of rocks or other nonflammable material. The fire should be contained in the pit and you need to be cautious not to allow the flames to get too high. Never pour flammable liquid on a fire, even to start it. Never have a fire when the ground is too dry and in particular when there are local fire alerts in effect. Of course you should sit well back from the fire so that you do not singe yourself and you should not allow any horseplay in the area.

Other activities

Cottages provide an opportunity to participate in a variety of activities such as hunting, fishing, setting off fireworks, and hiking. While experienced cottage owners may be comfortable with these pursuits, your “city dweller” guests may be unfamiliar with a particular activity and equipment. When undertaking these activities with inexperienced users, be sure to take all proper precautions, including providing safety warnings, and supervising participants carefully. Guns should only be used under experienced adult supervision. Never point a gun at a person, even if it is unloaded. When fishing, be mindful of the risk of catching a human on your hook when casting. Always read and follow the manufacturer’s directions when using fireworks. When hiking, be wary of the presence of bears or other animals and always stay on trails. In general, regardless of the activity, it is important to always pay close attention to what you are doing and to be aware of other nearby participants’ locations and actions.

A stay at the cottage can be a lot of fun, but it is also full of potential dangers. In my legal practice I have seen all manner of accidents and injuries that can occur at the cottage, some predictable and others not so obvious. You can avoid injury to yourself, family and guests by being extra cautious, and providing clear instruction and supervision during activities. As a cottage owner, you can also protect yourself by taking out appropriate insurance that covers the full range of activities that take place at your cottage. Sun-filled summer days spent at the cottage are a tradition for many Canadian families. By taking some simple precautions, you can help to make sure that memories of the cottage are joyful for you and your guests.

Click here to read Cottage Safety: Part 1.

At Howie, Sacks & Henry we help people who have been injured at cottages and other vacation properties. If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident, we would be pleased to speak with you about your experience, the nature of your injuries, and what benefits you might be entitled to claim. Please contact Michael Henry at 416-361-0889 or

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