Canoe Camping

Cataraqui Canoe Club of Kingston
Environmental and Safety Guidelines
for Canoe-camping

These recommendations are intended to help members safely enjoy the outdoor
activities organized by the club.

Personal Safety
Travel and Campsite Ethics
Hygiene and Personal Waste
Safety With Animals
Bear Encounters


Personal Safety

1. Never attempt a trip that will overtax your ability. Improve your skill
by meeting progressively stiffer challenges, but do so gradually and — if
possible — under the guidance of an expert.

2. The law requires every boat to have a properly fitting PFD (personal
flotation device) for each person. We strongly urge you to wear one.
Also required by law is a 15-metre floating throw rope, a signalling device
such as a whistle (such as a Fox40) and a bailer. A light is required for
travel after dusk.

3. All kayakers should carry a well-fitting spray skirt and ensure that
their kayaks have proper flotation. Highly recommended equipment for
canoes includes a spare paddle and front and rear painters (ropes). All
paddlers should wear helmets in whitewater.

4. Pay special attention to drinking water. Surface water should not
be consumed without treatment to avoid Giardia (“Beaver Fever”) and other
such waterborne contaminants. We suggest using the following methods of
treatment alone or in combination:

  • Mechanical filters. These work quite well, but must be cleaned
    frequently and maintained and stored properly to avoid problems.
  • Chemical disinfectants. Iodine or chlorine may be used, but must be of
    the proper quantity and have enough contact time.
  • Boiling. The accepted standard is that bringing the water to a rolling
    boil is sufficient.

5. Tents should be placed well away from campfires, dead trees, and areas
of hillside run off. Place tent away from tree roots (a hazard during
lightning), shaded from the wind and sun, and away from animal trails.

6. Do not travel alone in remote areas. An injury or loss of equipment
could be disastrous.

7. Be especially careful when paddling in cold weather. Hypothermia is a
constant danger if you fall into the water. Learn how to avoid – and how
to treat – hypothermia.

8. Avoid wearing cotton clothing and wear your PFD. This will help
prevent hypothermia from wind and rain. Wet cotton can increase the
likelihood of hypothermia even in warm weather, so consider wearing
synthetics (the best choice is quick-dry clothing) or wool.

9. Every canoeist should know how to swim. If you can’t swim, wear your PFD!

10. Watch for and be aware of changing weather conditions; use these to
make wise choices. A sudden change in wind direction or change in
temperature will probably bring a storm.

11. Black flies, mosquitoes, deerflies, horseflies, ticks and other
insects are annoying and may carry disease. Wear protective clothing or use
an insect repellent.

12. Be aware of the symptoms of Lyme Disease, which is caused by the bite
of an infected deer tick. Avoid contact with ticks by wearing protective
clothing or insect repellent. Inspect your body for ticks; if found,
remove the tick carefully and save the specimen for analysis. Monitor
your body for symptoms. (For more information about Lyme Disease, refer to the
Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

13. Wear sun block and protective clothing to prevent sunburn, and wear
sunglasses to protect your eyes from glare and sun.

14. Three blasts on your whistle means an emergency. Make the trip
leader aware of your presence and be ready to help. (One blast means
“Pay attention”; two blasts means “Round up”).

15. Wear proper outdoor clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved
shirts and solid footwear. Bring extra clothing and always carry rain wear.

16. On rivers, be on the lookout for unexpected rapids. Unless you have
the skill and knowledge to run rapids, it is always best to portage around them.

17. Stay with the group: there is safety in numbers. The only exception is
if the trip leader gives one or more persons permission to separate from the

18. Follow the trip leader’s directions. If you feel these compromise
your personal safety, make your reasons known to the trip leader.

19. Carry sufficient water.

20. The trip leader (or another person designated by the trip leader)
should carry maps and a compass. A GPS unit is also helpful.

21. The trip leader (or other designated person designated by them) should
have a first aid kit approved by St. John Ambulance or similar organization.
St. John Ambulance is a good source of quality first aid kits.

22. When signing up for a trip, you are indicating your willingness to
follow the guidance of the trip leader.
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Travel and Campsite Ethics

1. Minimum impact means enjoying the outdoors without altering its natural
state. A clean campsite is a safe one: aim to leave your campsite cleaner
than when you arrived.

2. Keep your group size relatively small. A large group may cause
expansion of an existing site through trampling and destruction to trees
and ground cover.

3. Use existing campsites, trails and portages. Do not camp on the ends
of portages in heavily-used areas, as this obstructs the progress of others
along the trail.

4. Never cut live trees or shrubs to make shelters or tent poles and never
strip live bark from trees.

5. Do not dig drainage trenches around your tent. Trenches scar the site
and accelerate erosion. Take advantage of natural drainage and use floored tents.

6. Use lightweight camp stoves. These are convenient to use in all
weather, present minimal fire hazard and are much cleaner and faster than
fires. They also free up time from collecting and chopping wood.

7. Restricted travel zones are sometimes declared as a result of
dangerous forest fire conditions. Check with the nearest Ministry
of Natural Resources district office before starting your trip to see
whether a travel permit is required. Anyone convicted of starting a
forest fire can be charged with the expense of fighting that fire under
the laws of Ontario.

8. Use only dead wood for your fire. On small islands, do not collect
firewood; repeated searching over a small area soon destroys the
vegetation. Gather your firewood away from the island, not concentrated
in any one area. For most purposes wood need not be thicker than your thumb.

9. Gather wood so the area remains natural. Do not collect wood near
campsite; collect wood farther afield. Do not break branches off standing trees.

10. Keep fires small and build them in existing fire pits. If the area
is untravelled, remove evidence of the fire after use. Where there is no
fire pit dig to the mineral level of the soil, avoiding the burnable soil,
roots and overhanging trees.

11. To extinguish your fire, let it burn out to a white ash. Retrieve
non-combustible items (e.g. foil, tin cans) and carry them out with you.
Douse the fire thoroughly. Stir the ashes and the area surrounding the
ashes. Continue dousing and stirring until the fire is out.

12. Respect private property. Some canoe routes, especially in
southern Ontario, traverse private land. The utmost courtesy should
be exercised. Stay on portages. Ask permission before camping on
private land. Use only those campsites indicated on the map or posted
with a sign. Leave no trace behind. If you break trust with the
landowner, he or she may withdraw canoeing privileges for others.

13. Leftover food must be eaten or packed out if it cannot be burned

14. Provincial Park regulations may prohibit bringing metal cans and glass
into parks (interior camping)

15. Consider using a fire pot to build your fire, so as not to leave a trace
of the fire.

16. Avoid making new paths or tent sites. Camp on flat soil, grass or
rock, but not on flourishing vegetation.

17. We encourage car pooling on club trips to minimize pollution and
alleviate congestion at put-ins and take-outs.
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Hygiene and Personal Waste

1. Don’t use soap or detergent in a watercourse; even biodegradable
soap pollutes. The word “biodegradable” just means that the product
breaks down faster than conventional brands.

2. What is carried in must be carried out. Either burn it or bag it and
bring it back with you.

3. Water alone is an effective cleanser and can be used without soap to
freshen up.

4. Bathing, shaving and brushing teeth. Carry a bucket of water to a spot
at least 15 metres from its source and from campsites. Lather your body, shave
or brush your teeth, rinse and disperse the water at that spot.

5. Washing dishes. Never rinse plates, pots or pans directly in the lake
or watercourse. Rinse dishes, strain dirty water and disperse the water at
least 15 metres away from any water source and campsites. The strained
particles should be disposed of appropriately as garbage.

6. Accept the wearing of dirty clothes. Do not wash or rinse your clothes
directly in any water source. If you must wash your clothes, use the
bucket method (as described in #4, above).

7. Toilet paper, tampons and sanitary pads. Place in a plastic bag to
be burnt in the campfire (do not burn the plastic) or carried out. Even
biodegradable toilet paper takes a long time to break down. Minimize
toilet paper use. Crush one or two Aspirin or similar tablets in the plastic
bag to help reduce odours.

8. Human waste. Use outhouses when available. If not, stay
at least 15 metres from water or campsites, in a low traffic area. It is best to
urinate directly on bare rock or soil; otherwise, carry a trowel and dig a
hole 15 cm square and deep, and cover it after use.

9. Hand washing. Wash your hands regularly and before preparing food.
Giardia and other parasites can spread rapidly if group hygiene is poor. Do
not rinse or wash your hands in the same bucket as other people. Instead,
lather your hands with soap and rinse by pouring water over top. This
prevents contamination in the main bucket.
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Safety with Animals

1. Be aware of potential danger with all wild animals.

2. Wild animals rarely cause injury to human beings; they are more likely
to cause problems with food. Animals are attracted to the smell of food,
garbage and toiletries; it is important to keep your site as clean and
odour-free as possible. Never bury garbage; animals will detect the scent
and dig it up.

3. Keep all food wrapped in plastic to reduce odours. Safely store all
scented items when not in use. These are suggested methods:

  • Hanging method. Hang the pack away from the campsite. Suspend
    a rope from a tree branch and hang your food pack three metres above the
    ground, two metres out from the trunk and 1.5 metres beneath the branch.
  • Barrel method. Place food in an airtight barrel at least 15 metres away
    from any tent. Tie the barrel to a tree to prevent it from rolling away.
    Although the barrel may be airtight, odours can remain on the outside of the
  • Overwater method. A canoe or kayak is loaded with waterproof food packs.
    Placing paddles under packs may prevent the bottom of the packs from
    getting wet during rain. The boat is then anchored at one end with a rope
    tied to a rock (or mesh bag filled with rocks) and the other end secured
    to a tree on shore with a safety line. This method is efficient for large
    groups or lots of food.

4. Other items to place in a food pack include toothpaste, perfume,
sunscreens, skin creams, deodorant (avoid, or use unscented), used
tampons, clothing with spilled food, juice bottles, all food items,
used pots and pans, dishes, and garbage.
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Bear Encounters

The Ministry of Natural Resources estimates that there are about 75,000
to 100,000 black bears in Ontario. Bears are generally timid and avoid
encounters with people, but they can come into conflict with people when
natural foods are scarce.

The following strategies can be used to minimize the chance of a bear

  • Make noise (e.g. whistle, talk, sing, carry a bell) while
    hiking and portaging, especially if you are travelling upwind or through
    thick bush.
  • Use a flashlight if travelling after dusk.
  • Learn to recognize and watch for bear signs (e.g. fresh digging and
    feces). Avoid campsites and other areas where there is recent evidence of bear
  • There is safety in numbers. No bear has attacked a group of four people
    or more.
  • Leave your dog at home. While a well-trained dog may deter a bear, a
    poorly-trained one may only excite it, resulting in the bear following the
    dog back to its owner.
  • When setting up a campsite, remember to leave an escape route for wild
    animals. If a wild animal enters a campsite and feels trapped by
    the placement of tents, it is likely to charge.

The Ministry of Natural Resources recommends the following actions for
dealing with bears. If you spot a bear on a trail or if one enters your

  • Do not approach the bear. Slowly back away while watching the bear and
    wait for it to leave. Never turn your back on a bear. Allow it a clear
    escape route.
  • If you are near a building or car, get inside it as a precaution. If
    the bear was attracted to food or garbage, make sure it is removed after
    the bear leaves to discourage the bear from returning.
  • If a bear is in a tree, leave it alone. Remove people and dogs from
    the area. The bear will usually come down and leave when it feels safe.

If a bear is trying to get at food in your campsite, or if a bear tries
to approach you, here is how you should react:

  • Stop. Face the bear. Do not run. Stay with your group. Yell, wave
    your arms, and make yourself look bigger. Be aggressive and try to persuade
    the bear to leave.
  • If the bear is not frightened away, slowly back away and give it a wide berth.

Bear attacks may stem from the following causes: if the bear is cornered, a
mother bear is protecting her young, or (in extremely rare cases) if the
bear is a predatory one.

An anxious or annoyed bear may stand upright to get a better view, make
huffing or popping sounds, swat or beat the ground with its forepaws or even
bluff charge.If you find yourself in one of these situations:

  • Slowly back away, watching the bear.
  • If the bear approaches, stop. Be aggressive, yell, and throw rocks. Never
    turn and run!
  • If the bear continues to approach, resume backing away while continuing
    to be aggressive.
  • If the bear makes contact, do not play dead. Fight back with whatever you
    have on hand to hurt the bear. This is the best chance of persuading the
    bear to stop its attack.

Bears are rarely a problem for backcountry travellers. Raccoons and mice
are generally the greatest nuisance, and more people in Ontario are hurt
by moose each year than by bears. Protect your campsite from wild animals;
your safety and that of the campers who come after you depend on your
camping etiquette. When wildlife locates garbage that you have left
behind, they may come to associate people with food. Any animal that has
made this association is apt to become bolder and aggressive; these behaviours
may lead to the killing of the “nuisance” wildlife.

(For more information about bear attacks, refer to the Ontario Ministry of
Natural Resources