Just because your neighbours’ have installed a de-icer system, that does not necessarily mean that you also need one. If your property is located off the main body of a lake, in a sheltered area…probably not. We strongly recommend that you check with cottagers who have been in your area for a long time to help establish the need. Also contractors who specialize in the installation of these systems have a wealth of knowledge as to when and where they should be installed.

The objective is of course to keep your structures free of damaging ice… ideally 2 to 10 feet… and keep the public safe. Under the Canadian Criminal Code (Section 263 (1) and 263 (3); the code specifies that you must clearly post signs visible from all sides that say ‘Danger Open Water’. Also an amber non-blinking light that is visible from all directions for night time warning.  Do not use red or flashing red as it could be confused with an official Navigation Light marking an obstacle other than open water around boat houses and docks.

You are also required to clearly mark the open water area caused by your system with stakes and flags effective enough to be seen from some distance.

From a Legal and Insurance perspective:  Please obtain advice from legal counsel and your insurance agent as to your liability exposure. Get these opinions in writing as you might find that if an untimely accident were to occur, with someone being injured or drowned as a result of open water caused by your de-icer system, you in all probability will be charged under the Criminal Code (i.e.) Manslaughter in the event of a death. If your open water joins with your neighbour’s open water, in all likelihood they would also be charged. Even if a contractor is responsible for your installation, you are still liable. Make sure the contractor provides you with proof of insurance.

There are generally 3 types of de-icer systems.

  1. Bubblers –a system that ejects air from a pipe through a series of evenly spaced small drilled holes the length of the pipe sitting on the bottom of the lake or attached to the surrounding structures. This opens approximately 2 to 3 ft. of water and is highly effective. The air pump that runs this is mounted in a box on your dock or boat house.
  2. A submersible water/sump pump also attached to a multiple holed outlet pipe surrounding the structures that shoots up vertical streams of water in the same manner as the bubbler system. Simple, cheap and effective.
  3. Submersible electric propeller systems which come in many HP sizes. Unfortunately many installations are hugely overpowered, opening up areas over 200 feet from the structures they are protecting. Make sure the unit is sized for your installation. These systems can also effectively undermine otherwise safe ice some distance from the open water. Try and install them vertically if practical.

A Cautionary note for all of the above:

Make sure that your electrical supply is adequately sized and protected with a ground fault type breaker for use near water…just as in your bathrooms and kitchens.

Making good sense:

  • Install an electrical timer and thermostat on the system as you do not need it to run 24 hours a day except in extremely cold weather. Electricity rates are less after 7 PM.
  • It is not a good practice to turn on your de-icing system at Thanksgiving and turn it off in April.
  • The best time to turn your system on is once the Lakes freeze over…typically sometime after Christmas.
  • Contract with a responsible property manager or regularly check yourself that your system is running as intended.

It is hard to believe how large an area these systems can open when left unattended.

In years of heavy snow fall, the open water will sometimes become covered over creating the illusion of solid ice. There was an incident some years ago when someone walking a shoreline at night walked into open water covered by snow and joined the polar bear club unwilling. It is the practice of responsible de-icing contractors to regularly check their client’s installations and adjust the system intensity to guard against such events.

For those of you that like DIY and have properties off the beaten track or just plain hard to get at in the winter, consider installing a Wi-Fi system, cameras and a device that will allow you to turn your system on and off remotely using your cell phone or computer.

With Ownership Comes Responsibility. Please try and keep your de-icer systems well under control and prevent any unnecessary accidents.

Courtesy of:

The Muskoka Ratepayers’ Association