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Safe Snowmobiling: Owning and operating a snowmobile in Ontario

Photo of snowmobiles on the trail

Photo of snowmobiles on the trail

Photo of snowmobiles on the trail

Safe Snowmobiling

Owning and operating a snowmobile in Ontario

Snowmobiling is an immensely popular winter activity in Ontario. Whether you are a beginner or you have participated in this recreational activity for a number of years, knowledge of how to operate your vehicle safely is imperative to ensure an enjoyable ride both on and off the trail. The following highlights what you need to know to own and drive a snowmobile safely.

Make It A Safe Ride...

Obey speed limits and road/trail signs and always drive within your ability. Reduce your speed when driving at night and watch out for fences, guide wires and other objects that are more difficult to spot at night.

Avoid driving on frozen lakes and rivers. If it can't be avoided, check ice conditions beforehand. Wear a buoyant snowmobile suit. Carry ice picks and make sure they are accessible.

Tell someone of your outing; including where you are going, the route, description of your snowmobile and your expected time of return.

Never travel alone - always with a friend. Always be prepared for the unexpected.

Exercise caution at road and rail crossings.

Never drive impaired. Alcohol, illegal drugs, even prescription and some over-the-counter drugs can slow your reaction time and affect your ability to make good decisions. If convicted of impaired driving on a snowmobile, you will lose your driving privileges for all types of vehicles, including motor vehicles, commercial vehicles and motorcycles.

Use appropriate hand signals when driving with others before stopping, slowing down or turning. Exercise caution on corners and hills, and always remain on the right-hand side of the trail.

Never ride on private property without permission of the land owner.

Dress appropriately. Wear clothing in layers and always carry extra dry clothing with you.

Carry a survival kit that includes: first aid kit; trail map and compass; matches or lighter in waterproof container; knife, saw or axe; flashlight and whistle; high energy food such as nuts or granola bars; and a mechanical kit that includes: spare spark plug and drive belt; tow rope; extra ignition key; screwdriver, wrenches and hammer; plus the owner's manual.

Check the weather forecast before heading out. Contact the local snowmobile club to find out current trail and ice conditions.

Drinking and Snowmobiling

It is against the law to drive a snowmobile while impaired by alcohol or drugs.

If a snowmobile driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 50 to 80 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood (0.05 to 0.08), they could receive a roadside driver licence suspension of up to 30 days.

If a snowmobile driver is impaired or has a BAC of more than 0.08, or fails/refuses to comply with alcohol or drug testing, his/her driver licence will be suspended immediately for 90 days and the police can lay an impaired driving charge under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Individuals convicted of impaired driving on a snowmobile will lose their driving privileges (including their privilege to drive a car) for a minimum of one year.

For more information on drinking and driving consequences in Ontario, visit Ontario.ca/drivesober

Licensing

Anyone 16 and over who has a valid Ontario driver's licence, motorized snow vehicle operator's licence (MSVOL) or a licence from another jurisdiction is allowed to drive a snowmobile across a road, on roadways where legally permitted and on trails. The Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs issues the MSVOL. To get this licence, you must successfully pass a snowmobile driver training course. Contact your local snowmobile club to obtain more information about the MSVOL program or visit the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs website*.

If you do not have a driver's licence and you are 12 years of age or older, a valid MSVOL, or a licence from another jurisdiction authorizing you to drive a snowmobile will allow you to drive on trails. Drivers must carry with them at all times their driver's licence or MSVOL. Failing to produce either of these documents to a police officer or conservation officer when requested could result in a fine of up to $1,000.

The Motorized Snow Vehicles Act is the primary piece of legislation that governs snowmobiling in Ontario. To view the MSVA and other Ontario laws and regulations, visit www.e-laws.gov.on.ca.

Contact your local snowmobile club to obtain more information about the MSVOL program or visit the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs website.

Registration and Insurance

Before driving a snowmobile, it must be registered with the Ministry of Transportation. If you are operating the snowmobile off your own property, the registration must be valid and you must have liability insurance. Carry both the registration permit and the insurance card with you when riding. Failing to produce either of these documents to a police officer or conservation officer when requested could result in a fine of up to $1,000.

Helmets

Everyone who drives or rides on a snowmobile requires a helmet that meets the standards approved for motorcycle helmets. Everyone who rides on a cutter, sled or similar device towed by a snowmobile must also wear a helmet.

Towing

A rigid tow-bar must be used when towing a sled or similar device behind a snowmobile.

Where to Ride

YES:

  • your own property
  • private trails belonging to organizations of which you are a member
  • private property with the owner's permission
  • between the shoulder and fence line (not on the shoulder) along public roads, except where prohibited (check with a municipality on by-laws for roads within its boundaries)

NO:

  • certain high-speed roads, including 400 series highways, the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW), Ottawa Queensway and Kitchener-Waterloo Expressway
  • the travelled portion (from shoulder to shoulder) of a public road, except when crossing at a 90-degree angle

Speed Limits

50 km/h - on snowmobile trails
20 km/h - on roads where the speed limit is 50 km/h or less
50 km/h
- on roads where the speed limit is over 50 km/h

Snowmobile Trails

Ontario's snowmobile trail system is maintained by many snowmobile clubs. Trails are patrolled by the Ontario Provincial Police, municipal police, conservation officers and Snowmobile Trail Officer Patrol (STOP) officers. Some trails may require a trail permit. Check with the local snowmobile club to find out if you need one. For trails operated by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, you must have and display a valid trail permit. This includes trails on private property, municipal property and land owned by the government. For information about trails and trail permits, contact the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs. Drivers convicted of driving without a trail permit on an OFSC designated trail, failing to provide evidence of their trail permit, or not properly affixing the permit to their snowmobile face fines of up to $1,000.

For information about trails and trail permits, contact the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs website.


Prepare for the Conditions

Night Riding

Drive at a reduced speed and avoid travelling faster than the beam of your headlight can shine ahead. Riding at night reduces your visibility and your ability to spot hazards that may be ahead. It also reduces your ability to estimate distances. Wear clothing that has reflective markings so that you are more visible at night.

Riding on Ice

Avoid travelling on frozen lakes, rivers and ponds. Many fatalities involve snowmobiles breaking through the ice or driving into open water. Anytime you travel on ice, you put yourself and your passengers at risk. If travelling on ice cannot be avoided, always be sure to check the conditions before-hand as conditions can change in a matter of hours. A buoyant snowmobile suit is recommended when travelling on frozen lakes or rivers. Carry ice picks with you and make sure they are accessible. Remember, your stopping distance will greatly increase when travelling on ice. Always travel on ice that is new, hard and clear. Never travel on ice that is slushy, weak, near moving water or has thawed and refrozen.

Wind and Cold

Wear layers of clothing. This enables you to add or remove clothing in order to adapt to changing conditions. A windproof outer layer (snowmobile suit), warm mitts/gloves, warm boots and insulated helmet are recommended. Thermal layers will allow your body to retain heat while releasing moisture. Remember, exposure to extreme cold can lead to frostbite and hypothermia. Body temperature can be affected by outside air temperature and wind speed. For example: risk of frostbite to exposed skin with a wind chill at or below -25°C; frostbite possible in 10 minutes to warm skin with a wind chill at or below -35°C, shorter if skin is cool; and, frostbite possible in less than 2 minutes with a wind chill at or below -60°C, shorter if skin is cool. Remember, too, that alcohol can also lower your body temperature, which in turn increases the risk of hypothermia.