Cottage Safety Tips

Cottage season in Ontario is in full swing.

If you have a cottage, you are no doubt deep in entertaining mode (ever noticed how cottage owners are everyone’s best friends in July & August?)

When it comes to liability, you probably feel that you are protected by your cottage’s home insurance, but you still must take steps to make sure that your guests are protected.

I’ve listed 5 cottage safety tips to help you and your guests stay safe this summer. Some of these are common sense but remember: Common sense is in short supply and, if you add a few beers on a dock to the mix, may disappear altogether!

1. Repair Your Rails

I can’t tell you how many cottages I’ve visited where the railing on the verandah was literally falling down. I’m talking about rails that couldn’t withstand the weight of a child who fell against it, let alone a big guy like me.

If your cottage is built on a hill like the vast majority of cottages in Ontario are, make sure your rails are solid. Ditto for steps if your cottage is on a steep incline. Sure, you may have home insurance, but that won’t appease your guilt when your best friend breaks her leg and can’t work for six months.

2. Enforce Alcohol Rules

When I was young, I used to visit a friends cottage frequently and there was only one rule that we all had to obey: No drinking and going down to the lake.

That meant no boating, no swimming and no hanging on the dock in an inebriated state. Because we all loved the cottage, and the owners were easy going about everything else, we respected the rule.

I made some of my best memories at that cottage and I lived to tell the tales…

3. Bring Lots Of Blankets/Sleeping Bags

It’s rare to have a cottage near transit or a cottage without a stocked beer fridge.

That means, when you invite guests, assume they’ll be overnighting it. Insist on their overnighting it.

Cottage roads are not like normal roads. They’re not always well maintained, there’s animals that can jump out in front of cars and even other cottagers who are using the road.

Even without involving alcohol, a day on the water can be exhausting and nobody should drive under those circumstances.

Again, there are lots of laws to protect you if someone gets hurt after they leave your cottage, but that won’t make you feel better about it. If you invite them up, assume they’ll be staying till the next morning.

4. Keep A Bucket Of Water Or Sand Near The Fire Pit.

I prefer to build my fires as close to the water’s edge as possible (I’m a personal injury lawyer, we’re a cautious bunch!) and I remove debris like twigs or leaves from the perimeter to stop the spread.

When we’re finished for the night I make sure the fire is doused. Even if it looks like it’s already out, I’ll still give the pit a good soaking for good measure. Especially if the land is dry.

A related tip is to keep jars of water outside where smokers can leave their cigarette ends. It’s much safer than dropping them onto dry grass.

5. Insist On Life Jackets.

Whether they’re traveling via canoe, speedboat or water noodle, make your guests wear lifejackets on the water – even beyond what the law requires.

I remember when I was a kid, my parent’s friends who owned a cottage wouldn’t let us swim without life jackets. I remember thinking it was stupid (I was a strong swimmer) but now, looking back, I totally understand their caution and, if I were entertaining children on my dock, I’d have them wear life jackets too.

No doubt there was a lot of moaning, but we stayed safe and my parents appreciated their friend’s attitude towards us kids.

If your cottage is on a busy lake, I’d make this rule stick even more. It’s easy for boaters not to spot a swimmer and, in the situation where a swimmer is knocked unconscious, that life jacket is a matter of life and death.

For more easy tips on cottage safety, visit the Muskoka website at


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