Proposal to amend Ontario Regulation 161/17 to the Public Lands Act to change the requirements related to floating accommodations

ERO number
Notice type
Public Lands Act, R.S.O. 1990
Posted by
Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Notice stage
Proposal Updated
Proposal posted
Comment period
February 24, 2023 - April 11, 2023 (46 days) Closed
Last updated

Update Announcement

This proposal notice has been updated on March 16, 2023 to focus on proposed regulation changes related to floating accommodations. The following proposals have been removed and are no longer under consideration: reducing the number of days that a person can camp on water at one location in each calendar year from 21 days to 7 days, increasing the distance that a camping unit on water must move to a different location from 100 meters to 1 kilometer, adding a new condition to prohibit camping on water within 300 meters of a developed shoreline, harmonize non-resident and resident camping rules, and several other minor clarification proposals. Any further consideration of these proposals would be addressed by a new Proposal Notice. If you have already commented, we appreciate your feedback.

This consultation was open from:

February 24, 2023
to April 11, 2023

Proposal summary

We are proposing to amend Ontario Regulation 161/17 under the Public Lands Act. The key proposed amendments relate to what structures or things may not be placed or used for overnight accommodation on water over Ontario’s public lands and are intended to reduce the environmental and social impacts of floating accommodations.

Proposal details

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) is responsible for managing the use of Ontario’s public lands under the Public Lands Act and its regulations. Ontario is seeing an increase in the number and types of structures and things being used for overnight accommodation on Ontario’s lakes and rivers.

We have heard increasing concerns related to floating accommodations. Floating accommodations are floating structures designed principally to provide accommodation for longer stays (i.e., similar to a cottage).

In March 2022 the Ministry sought input through Environmental Registry of Ontario (ERO) bulletin 019-5119 on the use of floating accommodations on public lands covered by water. We received feedback from the public, Indigenous communities, municipalities and stakeholders. This bulletin asked several questions, which have helped to inform this proposal. Generally, respondents expressed that the current rules for what structures or things may be placed or used for overnight accommodation on water were too permissive. Almost all respondents were opposed to floating accommodations.

Some of the concerns raised about floating accommodations included:

  • impacts to waterways, islands and access
  • impacts to water quality, aquatic plants (e.g., wild rice in northwest), lake beds, fish, wildlife and habitat
  • persons occupying public lands without authorization and excluding others from using that land
  • noise pollution, aesthetic, and privacy-related impacts to waterfront private property owners
  • public safety concerns and emergency services (e.g., fire response)
  • wastewater management (grey and black water discharge)
  • commercial use including short-term rentals
  • increased volume of stationary vessels or structures on waterways contributing to greater risk of collisions, and congestion in desired areas
  • lack of payment of property taxes and application of building permits

Public Lands Act

Public lands (also called Crown lands) represent 77% of the total area of Ontario and include the beds of most navigable lakes and rivers. The Public Lands Act provides the MNRF with broad authority to plan, manage, authorize occupations or dispose of public land. This does not include provincial parks and conservation reserves or federally managed lands like parts of the Trent Severn Waterway.

Certain recreational activities are allowed on most public lands without needing to obtain the Ministry’s authorization, if certain conditions are met. These conditions allow the ministry to mitigate potential environmental impacts, ensure that access and availability of public land is fair, and prevent land use conflicts.

Ontario Regulation 161/17 sets out the types of buildings, structures or things that can be placed and used on public lands (without site-specific Ministry authorization) as long as the conditions set out in the regulation are followed. These types of structures include a “camping unit”. For the purposes of the regulation, a “camping unit” is defined as “a structure or vehicle that may be used for camping purposes or as an outdoor accommodation and includes a tent, trailer, tent-trailer, recreational vehicle, camper-back and any watercraft equipped for overnight accommodation”.

The Public Lands Act and Ontario Regulation 161/17 provide that any person can place or use a camping unit for private, non-commercial purposes on public lands (including lands covered by water) if the following conditions are met:

  • the person places or uses the camping unit for private, non-commercial camping purposes
  • the duration of use is to a maximum of 21 days at one location each year
  • after 21 days the camping unit must move at least 100 metres from its location
  • the public lands that are occupied are not part of a road, trail, parking lot or boat launch
  • the person using the camping unit is not a non-resident as defined in Ontario Regulation 326/94 who is placing or using a camping unit for private, non-commercial purposes in the area described in the regulation
  • the public lands are not excluded from the application of section 21.1 of the Act or Ontario Regulation 161/17

It’s important to note that there are instances where buildings, structures or things cannot be placed or used on public lands (i.e., where lands are excluded per section 21.1 of the Act or Ontario Regulation 161/17), namely lands that:

  • are already occupied by another person who has occupational authority
  • are subject to a notice under section 28 of the Public Lands Act and the use is inconsistent with the notice
  • are subject to a Community Based Land Use Plan under the Far North Act or a Land Use Plan under the Public Lands Act and the use is inconsistent with the plan
  • have a prohibition per the Trespass to Property Act for the proposed use
  • are subject to a lease of surface rights under the Mining Act
  • are a road allowance controlled by an entity other than MNRF and the authority has not consented to the occupation

The protection of navigation and the prevention of collisions in navigable waterways is addressed through existing federal legislation. Federal rules also address anchoring in narrow channels. The provincial regulations would not impact the common law right of navigation and reasonable moorage or anchorage, including the right of boaters to stay overnight, or the federal regulation of navigation.

Also, none of the proposed changes would apply to Indigenous communities or persons exercising Treaty or Aboriginal rights.

Proposed changes to Ontario Regulation 161/17

We are proposing to clarify the structures or things that cannot be placed and used for overnight accommodation on water over public land.

  • We are proposing to amend the regulation to exclude floating accommodations or float homes (house-like structures incorporating a floatation system, intended for use or being used or occupied for residential or longer term purposes and not primarily intended for, or usable in, navigation) or barges with residential units or camping facilities.

Consequential amendments may be required to other regulations under the Public Lands Act.

None of these changes would impact a boater’s ability to navigate, including reasonable mooring or anchoring.

None of these changes would apply to a person exercising their rights protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 (Aboriginal or treaty rights).

Environmental implications

We heard concerns about the impacts of floating accommodations. Some of these concerns included:

  • disturbance to lake beds and sensitive aquatic habitats caused by pile anchors
  • impact of greywater (i.e., wash water) discharge on water quality and aquatic plants and wildlife
  • pollution from household garbage falling into waterways
  • risk of fuel and/or oil spills
  • insufficient sunlight into water caused by extended periods of shade from floating accommodations
  • disturbance to local fisheries and/or wildlife

The proposed changes to clarify that a floating accommodation is not a structure or thing that can be placed and used for overnight accommodation, is anticipated to reduce potential environmental impacts of pile anchors and pollution. Floating accommodations may be associated with an increase in the volume of greywater discharged in one area. Untreated greywater can have harmful pathogens and bacteria and impacts to water quality are higher in areas with poor water circulation (e.g., sheltered harbours).

Regulatory impact analysis

If a person is not in compliance with the regulation or navigating, then occupational authority or other permission is required from MNRF to authorize the occupation of public lands covered by water. Note that no new private recreational camps or campsites (e.g., cottage sites, hunt camps, cabin sites) are available for rent or for sale. However, the ministry will consider disposition of public land to accommodate opportunities for socio-economic development that are compatible with environmental and ecological integrity.

We anticipate that the proposal to further define what structures or things cannot be placed and used for overnight accommodation would have a neutral impact to the houseboat industry. A person renting a houseboat would continue to be considered by MNRF as using it for personal use if navigating the watercraft themselves.

Businesses who are marketing floating accommodations (for sale or rent) for use on public land may experience negative impacts if the purchasers or users of the structures will not be able to use them as intended due to the regulation.

There may be a benefit to marinas if occupants of floating accommodations stay overnight at marinas as an alternative to occupying public land.

Municipalities that have concerns about the use of floating accommodations are anticipated to experience a benefit from the proposed province-wide approach.

There are no new administrative costs associated with this proposal.

Supporting materials

View materials in person

Some supporting materials may not be available online. If this is the case, you can request to view the materials in person.

Get in touch with the office listed below to find out if materials are available.

MNRF - CFLPB - Crown Lands Policy Section

300 Water Street, 5th Floor, North Tower
Peterborough, ON
K9J 3C7


Commenting is now closed.

The comment period was from February 24, 2023
to April 11, 2023

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Public Input Coordinator

Email address
MNRF - CFLPB - Crown Lands Policy Section

300 Water Street, 5th Floor, North Tower
Peterborough, ON
K9J 3C7

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