cottage insurance tips

Cottage Season is Here: Got Friends Coming Over? Think Safety First!

Having friends over to your home for a few drinks and barbecue is a time honoured tradition.

It’s a simple formula for an enjoyable evening. After all, there’s a limit to the number of ways your guests could get hurt or hurt others while sitting at the table.

Having friends up to the cottage? That’s a little different.

Entertaining at your cottage presents a whole new range of ways things can go wrong, what with the mixing of alcohol, sunshine and motorized vehicles.

Here are five cottage safety tips you can make sure that you, and your guests, have a wonderful time at the cottage:

Make Sure Everything Is In Good Repair BEFORE Friends Arrive

Since cottages aren’t typically places where you live full time, things can fall into disrepair over winter, and you may not notice right away.

Decks, docks, and railings can all have weaknesses that you might not be aware of until you check.

Walk around your property long before you invite anyone up and check how sturdy everything is:

  • Are all the doors opening and closing properly? What about windows?
  • Any loose or rotting boards on the deck or dock?
  • Any railings that are loose or rotting, which would take only a push from a small child to knock over? (this is a big one)
  • If your cottage has pathways or stairs to the water because it sits higher, make sure these are all in good shape and free of tripping hazards. Check the rails for the stairs too.

If you haven’t been up in a while, check the property, including the grass and beach area, to make sure there aren’t any nails, bones or other detritus that could hurt a foot or your best friend’s dog.

You don’t know what might have washed up or what animals might have been through your property over the winter, but finding a post with rusty nails buried in the slightly too deep grass? That’s an accident waiting to happen.

Establish Rules Around Alcohol And Cannabis Consumption

It’s your cottage, so your rules apply.

If you don’t want people to smoke weed, make sure they know in advance that this is how you feel. As to drinking, you have a responsibility as a social host to make sure that no one is so drunk that they fall off the dock, drive off in your boat, or their car.

While technically the law hasn’t been clear on creating a ‘duty of care’ for hosts of private parties and gatherings, ensuring that their guests don’t cause harm or harm themselves, you have a moral obligation to consider.

How would you feel, for example, if you let your guests get roaring drunk and one of them got seriously hurt or worse because they decided to drive off into the night on unknown cottage country back roads, and plowed themselves into a tree? Not good.

So how can you avoid these issues?

  1. Be clear about the rules that you want your guests to adhere to. A good one is ‘No drinking and going down to the lake’. Why? Because it’s by the water that the most likely and devastating accidents could occur, when people are drunk. No swimming, no hanging out on the dock and no boating of any kind (canoe, kayak, raft or otherwise!)
  2. Make sure there is plenty of food on hand to go with the cocktails and beer, to help minimize the effects of the alcohol, as well as plenty of non-alcoholic options.
  3. Keep control on who is doing the serving: a self-serve open bar could turn ugly, quickly.
  4. If your guests include other local cottagers, make sure they have a designated driver (or boater) or a willingness to camp out on your sofa! You’re not getting an Uber out there, so it’s important that there’s a plan in place for these guests.

Set Up Sleeping Arrangements

It goes without saying that your guests, if they’re from the city, should plan on staying over. There’s no simply question of them driving back to the city after an afternoon and evening of fun.

Being out on the water and in full sunshine all day is exhausting, and driving while fatigued is a bad idea, particularly on dark cottage roads, where wildlife abound and lights do not.

Add a couple of drinks around the campfire and the situation could be even worse.

Always have a few extra sleeping bags, pillows and blankets on hand for the guests who didn’t expect to be staying over or weren’t prepared. And make sure the coffee is well stocked for the next morning!

It’s better to have your guests pass out safely and enjoy coffee on the dock on the morning, than drive or boat high or drunk and not wake up at all.

Fire Safety

A campfire is a summer tradition that a lot of us enjoy, but if you’re the host, you also need to consider cottage fire safety. After all, not everyone is used to being around an open fire.

  • Make sure the fire is contained, either in a pit, with rocks or in a metal container designed for the purpose.
  • Keep a bucket of water and a bucket of sand on hand, to douse out the final embers at the end of the night. A good wind could otherwise get the fire going again or send embers into the woods.
  • If you’ve got smokers in your group, put out jars with water in them to make sure that cigarette butts are well put out. It only takes one carelessly tossed into the grass in a dry summer to create a disaster.
  • Pay attention to local fire bans. They exist for a reason. Also, look what’s above your fire. Sparks fly up, and if that pine above your fire is dead, it could ignite.

Water Safety

I can’t tell you the number of times I see people out boating where the adults aren’t wearing PFDs (personal flotation devices, or life jackets) but the kids and dogs are!

Everyone should be wearing a life jacket, whether in a canoe, a paddle boat, or a speedboat.

It takes little to be knocked out of a boat on a busy lake, bang your head and lose consciousness.

If that happens, it doesn’t matter how strong a swimmer your guest is! They might complain a little that you’re being overly cautious but hold your ground. Your cottage, your rules.

Summer is fleeting in this country, so by all means, have your friends up to the cottage and enjoy it to the maximum. With these few rules in place, you can make sure that everyone has a good time and goes home, safe and sound.


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