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Navigating the Ottawa River

There is nothing like being well prepared. Be sure to fully enjoy your cruise on the Ottawa by checking the following important information.

Weather and Water Conditions

While you may think you are about to embark on a cruise on sheltered inland waters, you should pay strict attention to local weather forecasts. The wind and wave conditions can change quite abruptly on both the Ottawa River and Lake Temiskaming. Due to the geography of the shoreline on the river and the lower half of the lake, winds have a tendency to spill over into the valley and accelerate either up or downstream, creating a wind tunnel effect. Winds from the north-northeast to southwest will blow upstream. From the southwest through the north, winds will blow downstream. Water conditions at these times change within minutes from calm to severe, with wave heights sometimes reaching two metres. Ask your hosts at each by-pass site to advise you of any special circumstances on the waterway.

Environment Canada weather reports may be obtained on your VHF’s weather frequency and are also provided on the local market radio stations along the waterway.

Unlike most waterways and cruising grounds, the Ottawa River water levels change continually. The lake and river system drain a huge area and during the spring or following heavy periods of rainfall, the water levels can become quite high, dislodging deadheads and debris from the shoreline. In addition to seasonal and weather related changes to the water levels, you could also experience changes within hours due to hydroelectric dams on the waterway. As the demand for hydro electricity increases, water levels drop above the dams, and rise below the dams. Caution is advised when navigating through shallow waters or around obstacles. When beaching your vessel for the day or overnight, you should be aware that the drop in water levels could leave you high and dry for several hours.

At various spots along the Waterway, where the river narrows, you may encounter fast flowing waters, strong current and turbulence. These areas of fast waters are located mostly on the lower half of the river, and can seem intimidating to a first time cruiser on the Ottawa River Waterway, but they can all be safely navigated by application of power to maintain steerage.

Obtain water level information on the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board’s site or by calling 1-800-778-1246.

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Be aware that both your VHF and cellular telephone may have limited service on the water. The Ottawa River Waterway is not covered by Canadian Coast Guard marine radio service; however, marinas and other boaters monitor channel 16 and 68.

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Emergency Services

Most sections of the Ottawa River are covered by 911.

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Nautical Charts

It is highly suggested and recommended that navigational charts be used on any excursion on the Ottawa River Waterway. The following chart numbers are covered for the various sections on the Waterway:

Nautical Chart

Section of Water


Lac des Deux-Montagnes


Carillon to Papineauville


Papineauville to Ottawa


Britannia Bay to Chats Falls


Chat’s Fall to Chenaux (Portage-du-Fort)


Portage-du-Fort to Fraser Island (to Pembroke)


Fraser Island (Pembroke) to Rapides-des-Joachims


Rapides-des-Joachims to Lake La Cave (Mattawa)


Lac La Cave (Mattawa) to Temiscaming


Lake Temiskaming


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