Owning and Operating a Snowmobile in Ontario

Snowmobiling is a popular winter activity in Ontario. Whether you are a beginner or have participated for a number of years, knowing how to operate the vehicle safely is important. 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 or 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 and drugs (including some prescription or 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 the 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 (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.

When operating a snowmobile in Ontario, drivers must obey Ontario’s impaired driving laws under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) as well as those under the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC).

Consequences for driving impaired include driver’s licence suspension, fines, vehicle impoundment and upon convictions requirement, to attend a remedial education course and install an alcohol ignition interlock device in other motor vehicles you operate.

Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, all drivers aged 21 and younger are required to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of zero at all times when driving any vehicle on a public road. If they are caught with any amount of alcohol in their system, they face an immediate 24-hour licence suspension and a 30-day suspension and fine up to $500 upon conviction.

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

Licensing

MTO is responsible for the Motorized Snow Vehicles Act (MSVA) and supporting regulations that govern snowmobiles on- and off-road.

Age

  • Drivers must be at least 12 years of age to drive off private property
  • Drivers must be at least 16 years of age to cross a highway
  • Drivers must be at least 16 years of age to drive along a highway

Licence

  • A valid driver’s licence or Motorized Snow Vehicle Operator’s Licence (MSVOL) is required
  • The Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) has been authorized to issue the MSVOL on behalf of the MTO
  • A licence from another jurisdiction is allowed to drive a snowmobile across a road and on roadways where legally permitted

Speed

  • Trails – 50 km/h
  • Highways (50km/h or less) – 20 km/h for snowmobiles
  • Highways (over 50 km/h) – 50 km/h for snowmobiles

Equipment

  • Helmet Use: Helmets are required for drivers and passengers at all times. Riders must wear an approved motorcycle helmet that is securely fastened under the chin with a chin strap
  • If a snowmobile is being operated on property owned or controlled by the registered owner of the vehicle, riders are exempt from this requirement.
  • Vehicle Lighting: Lights required at night, during inclement weather or insufficient light conditions

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 a driver’s licence or MSVOL at all times. 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.

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

Snowmobile drivers and passengers are required to wear a helmet that meets the standards approved for motorcycle helmets. Passengers 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

NO

  • 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)
  • 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.

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.

You are trespassing if you drive your snowmobile on private property without permission from the owner. You may be fined up to $2,000 if you are convicted of trespassing. In addition, you may be ordered to pay damages up to $1,000.

Night Riding

Drive at a reduced speed and ensure the beam of your headlight is shining on route in front of you. Riding at night reduces your visibility and your ability to spot hazards. It also reduces your ability to estimate distances. Wear clothing that has reflective markings so that you are visible.

Riding on Ice

Avoid travelling on frozen lakes, rivers and ponds as it presents the danger of 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 as they can change in a matter of hours, and wear a buoyant snowmobile suit. Carry ice picks with you and make sure they are accessible. Remember, your stopping distance is further 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 so that you can add or remove clothing to adapt to changing conditions. A windproof outer layer (snowmobile suit), warm mitts or 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.

There is a risk of frostbite to exposed skin with a wind chill at or below -25°C. Frostbite is possible in 10 minutes to warm skin with a wind chill at or below -35°C (shorter if skin is cool) and possible in less than 2 minutes with a wind chill at or below -60°C (shorter if skin is cool). Alcohol can also lower your body temperature, which in turn increases the risk of hypothermia.